At the conclusion of a national conference held on June 4 and 5 in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, this call was adopted by the 104 delegates representing more than 300 activists from most regions of France. Among them were the leaders of important struggles and mobilizations of the last few years: Onet cleaning agents, railway workers, staff of the Paris public transit system RATP, oil refinery workers from Grandpuits, workers from the aerospace and food industries, education and healthcare workers, and students from universities and high schools.
Crises, Wars, and Revolts
We live in increasingly convulsive times. The reactionary aggression against Ukraine by Putin’s regime, playing out in the context of an ongoing geopolitical conflict between Russia and NATO led by the United States, marks the return of war to Europe and, more generally, a heightening of global geopolitical tensions. Germany’s rearmament is perhaps the most salient indication that we are at what is only the beginning of an escalation that risks returning us to the worst moments of the 20th century.
At the same time, disasters linked to the environmental crisis continue. Droughts, mega-fires, and heat domes are the dramatic consequences of a system of production that destroys the environment and living beings and threatens humanity’s survival. Likewise, the Covid-19 pandemic has brutally highlighted the effects of the breakdown of healthcare systems and capitalist management of the pharmaceutical industry. It also points to the irrationality of a system that has allowed a handful of billionaires to become $3.78 trillion richer, while the workers who play the most essential roles have become poorer.
Today, governments are once again preparing to make the working class pay the bill to rescue the corporations. We are already suffering from galloping inflation that attacks our living conditions, and this offensive could quickly give rise to new social explosions. Already, we have seen the pandemic crisis put the brakes on a rising wave of class struggle that had touched so many different countries, from Chile to Algeria, France to Hong Kong, Iraq to Sudan, Lebanon, and so on.
This international wave has forged a new generation of militants who intervene not only on the terrain of social struggles, but also against racism, against the patriarchy, and in defense of the environment. Thus, we find many activists from the Black Lives Matter movement among those who are initiating unions in bastions of precarious work such as Starbucks and Amazon in the United States. Similarly, in France, former Yellow Vests are active in the flourishing wave of strikes for wages in industry and the logistics sector. Unprecedented links have been forged between struggles in recent years, such as the mobilization of environmental activists in support of the striking refinery workers in Grandpuits.
Drawing Lessons from the Latest Wave of Struggles
We must draw lessons from this rich experience of the last few years, and from this recent wave. The first is undoubtedly that struggles that unfold in a disorderly manner are doomed to be isolated and defeated. In France in the past few years, we have seen successive movements in nearly every sector of the population: university and high school students and large segments of private-sector workers in 2016; railroad workers and students in 2018; men and women workers and the poorer people of rural and semi-rural France with the Yellow Vests; workers in transport, national education, and various other sectors striking against the pension reform in 2019; youth in working-class neighborhoods following the murder of George Floyd in 2020; inner-city youth fighting against climate change … Imagine for a moment if all these sectors had struck together, around a common battle plan!
To achieve these objectives, workers must fight to take back control of their organizations, beginning with the unions, against leaderships that try in every possible way to contain struggles and radicalization. Therein lies the second lesson: the union bureaucracy has systematically been an obstacle to the unity of our class and the victory of our struggles. In 2016, the bureaucracy allowed the most combative sectors to exhaust themselves for more than four months without ever calling for and working toward generalizing the strike. In 2018, the bureaucracy imposed the strategy of slowdowns, which squandered the capacity of railroad workers to block the bosses from continuing to operate. In 2019, the bureaucracy sought to impose a “Christmas truce” at the decisive moment of the strike against the pension reform.
Faced with the Yellow Vest movement that it did not control, the bureaucracy adopted a hostile attitude, denouncing on December 6 the so-called “violence” of the demonstrators rather than that of the police who mutilated them and cordoned them off to keep them from converging with rank-and-file union activists. The Yellow Vests quickly understood that delegating their power to a bureaucracy or to self-appointed representatives was a trap, but they have struggled to find a democratic structure that would allow them to hold on in the long term, despite their attempts at coordinating around the “assembly of assemblies.” That brings us to a third lesson: the need for workers in struggle to organize themselves and to coordinate on the broadest possible scale in order to decide things democratically and retain control of their own movements. This is what was tried with the RATP-SNCF Coordinating Committee during the struggle against the pension reform, and it contributed to the movement continuing during and after the end-of-year celebrations.
The last lesson concerns the need for a pro-active political perspective that goes beyond simply responding to the attacks but is situated on the terrain of a counteroffensive by workers to impose their own demands and to change society from top to bottom. When we asked people from the Yellow Vests who were chanting “Macron resign” in the streets what they would do if they could get into the presidential palace, they had no answer. They lacked, among other things, a political perspective that would allow them to go beyond the stage of revolt to aim for revolution, to seize power, to put an end to capitalist society and open the way to a new society free of all forms of exploitation and oppression — that is, communism.
From this point of view, we face a paradox. We have just lived through an important wave of class struggle, and a new generation of radical activists has emerged, but while workers and young people were chanting “anti-capitalist” and “revolution” in the streets, the Far Left played practically no role and did not grow in strength at all.
The record of the Far Left — whose liabilities go back well before 2016 — explains why, after the pause imposed by the pandemic, it was the Popular Union of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and then the NUPES, that temporarily channeled this wave of struggles onto the electoral and institutional terrain, despite the questions that emerged from this wave about the betrayals of the official political Left and the trade union Left, and despite the search for responses to the capitalist catastrophe.
We can understand those who voted for Mélenchon in the first round of the presidential election to try to avoid a terrible rematch of the second round of 2017. However, faced with the multiple crises confronting us, Mélenchon’s purely institutional approach is a dead end. All recent experience demonstrates this, from the administration of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, for whom Mélenchon served as a minister, to President François Hollande’s administration, and to Syriza in Greece and Podemos in the Spanish State. These governments all promised to change the system, and all carried out deep attacks against the workers and the most oppressed, while at the same time allowing the Right and the Far Right to grow even stronger.
Some tell us that “things will be different this time.” But these assessments cannot be made on the basis of people or contexts. Rather, they reveal the bankruptcy of a perspective aimed at making institutions work “differently” — institutions that have been carved out by and for the ruling class. The power of the bosses, and their control of the economy, give them immense means to bend those who would contradict their will. In response, we must organize collectively, knowing we will have to fight to the finish against a system that is leading us to disaster.
The Limits of the Far Left as Reformism Returns
Faced with the uselessness of the NUPES and the potential for class struggle, we need a Far Left that goes on the offensive. But for the past 20 years, the French Far Left has lost influence on every terrain and finds itself today on the margins. This is not only the case in the elections, where Far Left candidates went from winning more than 10 percent in the 2002 presidential elections to less than 1.5 percent this year, but also on the terrain of the class struggle, which is much more serious.
Unable to draw a balance sheet of this failure, some are looking for shortcuts by way of the institutional Left. Such is the case, unfortunately, of the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) — just as we predicted before the leadership excluded our current. After joint campaigns with Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise party (LFI) in the regional elections, the NPA has decided to support the NUPES openly in the June 12 legislative elections, liquidating whatever political independence it had. It is true that the NPA did not sign an electoral agreement but, as its presidential candidate Philippe Poutou assumes, it is primarily because the NUPES did not want his endorsement. In this context, after having shown itself open to an alliance that includes the Socialist Party (PS), the NPA is ready to become a critical wing of a front that aims to be the fair managers of capitalism, in collaboration with the employers.
Lutte Ouvrière (LO) at least has the merit of avoiding such an adventure, but it has nevertheless been marked for years by routine militancy and an abandonment of all initiative in the class struggle. At the same time, it has blinders when it comes to the reality of today’s proletariat, which is concerned about and politicized by feminist, anti-racist, and environmentalist movements, among others, and whose vanguard has been radicalized by the Yellow Vest movement. This has led LO to cut itself off from the new militant generation that is emerging, thus rendering the organization completely ineffective when it comes to intervening in the current wave of the class struggle.
For a New Revolutionary Organization
It was on the basis of these observations of the limits of the Far Left that we decided, after being excluded from the NPA, to run Anasse Kazib for president — which we had first proposed within the NPA. Even though we were unable to obtain the required 500 sponsorships of elected officials to get Anasse on the ballot, the campaign gave us a glimpse of the potential for a Far Left with an openly revolutionary perspective and that surrounds itself with the activists of the main labor, anti-racist, feminist, LGBTQ+, environmental, and student struggles of the last period. The relentlessness of the state and the Far Right, both of which targeted Anasse, showed just how much such a perspective worries them.
With the election over, the time has come to crystalize this perspective organizationally and with our militants, so that we can create a tool for waging the next battles of the class struggle. This is what we have been building up to in recent years: in 2016 and 2017, by building strong links between mobilized youth and striking workers against the reforms of the Labor Code, and by taking part in the victorious strike of the Onet cleaning workers that are subcontracted to the SNCF national railroad company; in 2018, by building the Intergares and bringing together sectors of railroad workers who refused to use the slowdown strategy against the rail reform, and by initiating, alongside the Adama Committee, the Pôle Saint-Lazare to organize a convergence with the Yellow vests movement; and again, in 2019 and 2020, by leading the RATP-SNCF Coordinating committee, the coordination work of aerospace workers who were fighting to close down their factories during the peak of the pandemic, and with the exemplary strike of the Grandpuits refinery workers.
On the strength of these initial experiences, we call today for the construction of a new revolutionary organization, one that is equal to the urgent task of ending the capitalist system and laying the foundations of a communist society. We call for building an organization rooted in the working class, with a revolutionary perspective and strategy, and that integrates the struggle against all oppression. We call for building an internationalist and anti-imperialist organization, with class struggle and workers’ self-organization as its center of gravity.
We address this call to all those who share our perspective and who do not see themselves in today’s Far Left, particularly the workers who have taken part in the working-class struggles of the last few years, the anti-racist, anti-fascist, LGBTQ+, feminist, and environmental activists who are convinced of the need for revolution, and the youth who know that this society has nothing to offer them. It is also addressed to those revolutionaries who seek to learn from the failure of the Far Left, even including militants still in the NPA, and who reject the turn taken by the leadership of that party, or that of Lutte Ouvrière.
Over the next few months, we will initiate a broad democratic process to elaborate the founding texts of this new organization, which we expect to be founded at a congress this fall. The Révolution Permanente Summer School, which will be held August 24–29 in the Alps, will be an important step in this process to which we invite you.
Appeal adopted on June 5, 2022, in Sarcelles.
First published in French on June 10 in Révolution Permanente.
Translation by Scott Cooper