Who is Anasse Kazib?

Meet the Trotskyist railway worker running for president of France.

Anasse Kazib is a revolutionary Trotskyist rail worker running for president of France as the candidate of Révolution Permanente, the French sister site of Left Voice. The elections will take place on April 10, in the midst of a reactionary political climate — both as the institutional Left attempts to defend the legitimacy of France’s capitalist institutions, and the far Right increasingly saturates the public discourse, with its reactionary positions toward immigration, security, and Islam.

Kazib’s candidacy, by contrast, stands squarely against the institutions of the racist, capitalist French state. His program calls for, among other demands, an immediate wage increase for all French workers, worker self-organization against the violent attacks by the far Right and the police on people of color and the LGBTQ+ community, and a government of the working class and the most oppressed in French society, including the large immigrant community. Kazib himself is the first candidate of immigrant origin in the history of France’s Fifth Republic.

Kazib and his comrades at Révolution Permanente have no illusions that overthrowing capitalism is possible through the ballot box. Elections, however, are an opportunity to promote revolutionary ideas and intervene in political life. This is exactly what Kazib’s candidacy is intended to do.

Yet in the leadup to the election, Kazib’s candidacy has been made practically invisible by the establishment media. Despite receiving more sponsorships than many other candidates, the corporate media, as well as the Constitutional Council, has done their best to erase Kazib and his revolutionary program from the public eye. This is just one undemocratic feature of French bourgeois democracy.

To appear on the ballot in France, a candidate does not gather signatures from ordinary voters, but instead must obtain 500 “sponsorships” primarily from elected officials nationwide. The official period for gathering those parrainages (“godfatherings”) began on January 27 and will end on March 4. It is then that we will find out whether Kazib will appear on the ballot.

The interview that follows covers Kazib’s history in the workers’ movement, the tactical question of running in bourgeois elections as a revolutionary socialist, the political context in France, and the tasks ahead for the working class.

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The presidential election in France takes place in April. You are a worker running for president. Tell us about yourself.

My name is Anasse Kazib, I am 35 years old, and I was born in Sarcelles, a working-class town in the outskirts of Paris. I am a train switchman at the SNCF [the French National Railway Company] and have been for almost ten years. I am also a union leader and an activist at Révolution Permanente, which is the sister site of Left Voice and close to the Trotskyist Fraction (FT).

You cut your teeth as a rank-and-file union leader in the SNCF. Can you talk about your experiences in the workers’ movement?

Before I became a railway worker, I was the son of a railway worker. My father was one of the chibanis who worked for the SNCF. These Moroccan workers, who were recruited to work in France during the labor shortages of the 1970s, led a major legal battle against the company to be compensated for the xenophobic treatment they suffered. 

I was hired on at the SNCF in 2012 after working as a delivery man. I had some problems with the company, and when the union defended me I decided to get involved — so I created a union chapter at my station and led my first strikes.

In 2016, there was a national movement against the Labor Law.1also called La loi El Khomri, named after France’s then-Labor Minister. This was a turning point for me. The law took away some workers’ rights and shifted the balance of power in favor of businesses. This pro-corporate law, taken up by the “left” government of François Hollande, created a lot of anger and demonstrations — not only among workers, but also among youth, who occupied the Place de la République in a movement called Nuit debout. This movement really politicized me.

Then, at the end of 2017, there was a strike by cleaning workers at the railway stations in Paris  against the Onet Group, a multinational company and SNCF subcontractor in the north of Paris. That was also a pivotal moment in my life as a militant. These cleaners had been working in the same stations as us for 20 years or more, yet they had even more miserable wages and deplorable working conditions. The SNCF leadership considered them second-class workers, but we fellow rank-and-file railway workers supported them wholeheartedly. By fighting alongside them and helping them self-organize, and of course thanks to their own determination, they managed to get these two corporate giants to make concessions.

Then there was a reform in early 2018 that cleared the way for privatizing the railways. We began to organize meetings of railway workers across many different stations, regardless of their union, who refused to follow the losing strategy of the union leaders. The bureaucrats’ strategy was to use limited strike days to try to negotiate with the government, instead of preparing the railway workers for a hard fight until the plan was withdrawn. We workers, on the other hand, saw the need to shift the relationship of forces, and strengthen our connections with passengers, who also have a stake in stopping the privatization of public services.

At the end of 2018, there was the Gilet jaunes [Yellow Vests] movement — the most subversive movement of the last five years, which mobilized workers from the poor and working-class suburbs that ring French cities, and from rural areas, to fight for a very radical set of demands. My comrades and I tried to use this working-class mobilization as a way to to unite the labor movement and anti-racist activists together in discussions and common actions. But union leaders refused to join the Yellow Vest movement, and even called the demonstrators “violent.”

We had already been working with the Adama Committee, which was created to bring truth and justice for Adama Traoré, who was murdered by the police. Together, we brought thousands of demonstrators, workers, young people, union members, and people from low-income neighborhoods to join the Yellow Vests. By linking the movement to the fight against racial injustice and police violence, we challenged the Far Right that was trying to gain influence in this heterogeneous movement.

Finally, in 2019, during the strikes against the pension reform, we led a huge effort to build an indefinite strike — that’s a strike without a set ending date — through workers’ self-organization. We formed a group that brought together strikers from bus depots, metro lines, and train stations to think about the strike together. These connections made it possible for the workers to reject the Christmas truce the union leadership had proclaimed, and to take actions that continued the strike. All of this laid the foundations for acting with workers in other sectors, such as the oil and gas industry, and to extend the strike to new sectors.

During your time leading strikes, you began to understand the limits imposed by the union bureaucracy. What did you learn about this?

I was on an indefinite strike for a month at the SNCF. The union leadership had only proposed isolated strike days — one day on strike one week, another the next. The bureaucracy just refused to send all their forces into battle. The strength of the working class was there — the port was blocked in Le Havre, and huge numbers of railway workers were also on strike — but the union leadership didn’t put forth any sort of battle plan to coordinate all these workers and develop our strength and self-organization. That would have been the only way to bring down the Hollande government and stop its anti-social reforms. One evening, the leader of the CGT [General Confederation of Labor, one of the five major union confederations in France] Philippe Martinez [the CGT general secretary] went to Nuit debout and explained to the general assembly that he couldn’t do anything because he “did not have the button for the general strike.” It was clearly a refusal to assume any responsibility.

At the time, I was reading Leon Trotsky’s texts about February 1934, which discuss the role played by union leaders. They acted as a brake on the workers’ movement, despite the rank and file’s will to fight. He put into words what I was feeling, and helped me understand what the “union bureaucracy” was. I said to myself: the leadership doesn’t want us to win; they just want a regular seat at the table. That is what finally convinced me to make a political commitment to Révolution Permanente. I understood that it was necessary to go beyond local union struggles in our different workplaces.

If you are a revolutionary socialist who is against the French capitalist state, why are you running for its presidency?

The presidential election is simply the main political event in France. It attracts the attention of a large part of the population and the working class every five years. We want to use the election campaign as a platform — not to defend electoralism, but to present a revolutionary program for the working class and the youth.

Our campaign sees the working class as essential, which became obvious during the pandemic. It also claims the legacy of these struggles of the past five years, whether the workers’ strikes, the Yellow Vests movement, the mobilizations against police violence, protests against gender-based and sexual violence, and the climate movement. Our program contains, among other things, a minimum wage of 1,800 euros per month [about $2,000] tied to the inflation rate, the expropriation of strategic sectors of the economy and putting them under workers’ control, and a minimum-wage income for students.

But these measures will have to be won through struggle, which means that workers and youth must take this fight into their own hands by organizing and mobilizing. Our campaign aims to bring together the vanguard that has been fighting for the last five five years. That’s why it’s been essential to have people like Assa Traoré, the sister of Adama Traoré, or Sasha Yaropolskaya from the transfeminist XY Media, on the podium of all of our meetings.

What are the political dynamics in France now?

The five-year term of Emmanuel Macron has been marked by very important mobilizations. This very aggressive neoliberal president has intensified social conflict.

The pandemic has played a paradoxical role. Many workers became aware of their importance to society, leading to numerous strikes to close down nonessential production and more recently to demand decent wages. The population has also seen the gap between the billions given to the bosses and the underinvestment in public services such as health care and education.

But the pandemic also put a stop to the movement against the pension reform, and allowed Macron to take on a more authoritarian role. He was able to pass repressive laws, such as the Global Security Law, and Islamophobic laws, such as the Separatism Law, while considerably increasing police budgets. At the same time, anti-racist and feminist demonstrations have led to an “anti-woke” reaction from the Right and part of the Left.

The Left is fragmented, and no candidate has succeeded in establishing a real connection with the social movements of the last five years. This has paved the way for the Right and the Far Right to compete for the top spot in the elections.

Four of the other presidential candidates are from the Right and Far Right. They talk about imposing stricter immigration laws, leaving the European Union, and enforcing strict secularism. Who are these other candidates for president in 2022?

The presidential election is heavily skewed to the Right, with a lot of racist “security” proposals. On the Right, we have Emmanuel Macron and Valérie Pécresse. Macron has shifted further to the right over his five-year term. Pécresse, who used to be more liberal, is trying to outflank him on authoritarianism. Macron has announced plans for further neoliberal and repressive measures, while he tries to use the rhetoric of keeping Europe united to distinguish himself from the Right.

On the Far Right, the surprise was the candidacy of Eric Zemmour. This right-wing journalist was propelled by the billionaire Vincent Bolloré, who gave him a daily program on his TV channel CNews, which is directly inspired by Fox News. While Marine Le Pen has moderated her image to make herself seem more presidential, Zemmour has radicalized the discourse. He openly defends French colonialism and the fascist collaborator Philippe Pétain [head of the government during the Nazi occupation], and has furthered the “great replacement” theory while calling for violent measures against Muslims. His momentum is uncertain, but the Far Right is beginning to rally behind him. Marine Le Pen continues making demagogic promises to the working class while making more promises to the ruling class.

Who are the other left-wing candidates in the running? How does your candidacy differ from theirs?

The institutional Left is fragmented and struggling to make headway in the polls. The Center Left is represented by Anne Hidalgo of the Socialist Party, Yannick Jadot from the Greens, and Christiane Taubira. The Left is represented by Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France insoumise. They’re not all saying the same thing. Hidalgo and Jadot have espoused neoliberalism, while Mélenchon has proposed a moderate Keynesian program and tries to appeal to the youth. What all of them have in common is a rather limited dynamic. The governing Left no longer appeals to many people.

The reality is that these candidates are struggling to enter into dialogue with the radicalism that has been expressed over the past five years. Even with the most left-wing candidates, their strictly institutional perspective does little to convince workers and young people who don’t believe it’s possible to reform the system. However, all these candidates share the same aim: rebuild a coalition that can administer the pillars of the capitalist system and the French imperialist state. For a candidate like Hidalgo, it’s enough just to look at the policies of the Socialist Party when it was in power not so long ago. It carried out large-scale attacks, such as the 2016 labor law that I mentioned earlier.

Mélenchon, the most left-wing candidate among the reformists, said something quite telling a few years ago: “Vote for me and you will save miles of demonstrations.” This is a totally institutional logic — even to implement the few progressive measures of his moderate program, we know that simply voting will not be enough. Indeed, the big capitalists in France and elsewhere are not going to accept these measures without a fight. Just look at the recent examples of Syriza in Greece or Podemos in the Spanish state. Mélenchon himself cites these examples — but they show the impossibility of real social change through state institutions. Another recent example is that Mélenchon welcomed the election of Gabriel Boric in Chile, calling him a comrade. But Boric not only stated that he would not implement any measures outside the existing institutional framework; he even refused to grant the most basic demands of the social movements, such as the release of all political prisoners from the October 2019 rebellion.

We, though, insist that the workers and the youth must take things into their own hands. Their struggles have already opened up perspectives that go far beyond the minimal demands of the “Left.” That’s the voice that we want to make heard; that’s who our program to end this system is proposed to. Our program is much closer to that of the two other far-left candidates: Philippe Poutou  of the NPA [New Anticapitalist Party] and Nathalie Arthaud of Lutte Ouvrière [Workers’ Struggle]. Both of them are running for the third time and, from our point of view, are running very routine campaigns — going through the motions. They struggle to reflect the radicalism that exists in our class.

What message do you have for those who believe that fascism is on the horizon in France?

As political discourse shifts to the right, many people see the specter of fascism.  But this rightward shift masks another reality.

Left-wing ideas may be  in the minority in the media, but they are very much alive in society. The Yellow Vests movement in 2018 was a genuine popular uprising, the most subversive since 1968. The strike against the pension reform in 2019 put the organized working class back at center stage, with a new generation of workers from immigrant communities. Not to mention the Black Lives Matter movement, the Adama Committee, the Nous Toutes demonstrations [which protested sexist and sexual violence against women], and environmental movements.

The idea that fascism is imminent and inevitable tends to remove class struggle from the equation. If the regime is becoming more right-wing, it’s partly because there have been very large-scale mobilizations on the left. These movements are far from having been defeated and will make life difficult for the next government. We must avoid defeatism at all costs, which disarms us instead of mobilizing us.

It is true that France has become increasingly authoritarian, but fascism is more than that: it means the bourgeoisie choosing military confrontation and trying to crush the workers’ movement. I don’t believe that we are in such a situation. Is there a force capable of crushing La France insoumise, the French Communist Party, the New Anticapitalist Party, the CGT, Solidaires, Attac and other social movements? No, at least not yet. This is crucial, because it gives us time to organize and prepare.

Talk a bit about the exclusion of Révolution Permanente from the New Anticapitalist Party.

We have longstanding disagreements with the historical leadership of the NPA. First of all, there is a problem with the project of a “broad [Left] party” that refuses to choose between reform and revolution and tends not to treat class struggle at the center of gravity. Recently, this has led the NPA leadership to be increasingly influenced by the reformist Left. It demonstrated this by allying itself with La France insoumise in the regional elections. In recent years, we have defended the need to make the NPA a tool for building a revolutionary party.

Our interventions in class struggle in recent years have helped us gain influence. But the NPA has been going through a major crisis for several years, with thousands of members leaving the organization. As a result, the historical leadership decided to exclude us on the eve of a National Conference that was supposed to decide on the party’s orientation and the candidate for the 2022 presidential election. They seized on the proposal for me to be a candidate in order to justify this exclusion.

The NPA leadership knew that it was no longer in the majority. With the support of other oppositional tendencies who caved out of fear of being excluded themselves, they made everyone vote on provisions that would have stripped us of our rights to participate fully in the conference to select the party’s candidate. This was an unprecedented attack on democratic rights. Based on these actions, we accepted that we were effectively being excluded from the NPA and decided to go forward with my candidacy as Révolution Permanente.

What are the main tasks of socialists and the working class today?

Participating in elections is an important tactic for us as socialists and revolutionaries as a way to communicate our program to an important segment of the workers and youth. Still, it remains a tactical question. As my comrade Youcef Brakni, and anti-racist activist and leader of the Adama Committee, said, “We are building a bloc of resistance and revolution for the future.” We know that after years of economic crisis, after this pandemic, the main question in the years to come will be: who will pay for the crisis? We know that the capitalists and the big bosses won’t do us any favors, so it’s in our interest to organize and prepare ourselves. Class confrontations are not far down the road.

This is true for France as well as other countries, such as Chile, as I mentioned before. This means that a primary task of the revolutionary Left is to prepare for these confrontations and forge powerful alliances that will not only help us defend ourselves against attacks from the ruling class, but will let us take the offensive. That means we have to unite the working class in all its diversity — women, LGBTQ+ people, workers from immigrant backgrounds, whatever their skin color or religion. To do this, it’s essential to learn from the struggles of the past, from the fights we’ve lost, and from the betrayals of the reformist union leaders that have led us to a dead end.

This is why I, along with my comrades in Révolution Permanente, believe that we must build a revolutionary and militant organization based on class struggle — one that is anchored in workplaces, high schools, universities, and working-class neighborhoods — by equipping ourselves with a winning strategy. We have no more time to lose. Preparing for the fights to come must begin here and now. This is the message we want to spread in our campaign, and we invite the workers and the youth to join us.

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Militant journalism, revolutionary politics.