Accueil du site > Ni patrie ni frontières > Texts in English > THE SAD FARCE OF THE NO "VICTORY"


vendredi 10 juin 2005

Translated from French by SonofTomJoad, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (Written the day after the referendum, this text has been expanded and modified to address readers feedback.)

On the nationalism of the Left bourgeois parties and the political manoeuvres of the Far Left

Just like during each electoral competition, everyone, winners or losers, was thankful for the results of the May 29th referendum. Sure, "yes" supporters are a little put out that "la France" will be, because of the no, a few years behind in what they call the "construction of Europe," but they can get some consolation : after all, they still have power (UMP, main rightwing party) or will soon get it back (Socialist Party). As for the "no" supporters, they are celebrating because Chirac took a gigantic slap. Many think he should have resigned and called for new elections - that will only and inevitably clear the way for bitter disillusionment, whatever the results.

But both the "yes" and "no" supporters all explain that the campaign "awakened a new interest in politics, "the debate in France was intense among ordinary people," that there were "passionate meetings," that "everybody was studying the Constitution with pen in hand," etc. Like at each election, but even more visibly so for this one, the participants in the electoral farce are bathing, in fact, in Franco-Frenchness and often chauvinistic self-satisfaction, paternalistic in regard to other Europeans. And what could be more normal, since it is very much one of the functions of the electoral system ? That is, making all the individuals of a given State of all social classes commune in the illusion they all are equal because they have the same ballot at their disposal. They make believe that by abandoning their decision-making power to uncontrollable and uncontrolled representatives who do not carry out their commitments or respect their program, those representatives will act for the general good of the nation - exploiters and exploited all blended together.

But since this election concerned Europe, it is necessary to extend the analysis, not of the results of the vote itself and of the Franco-French politicians’ racket-specialists will do that in the coming months-but of the positions defended by the "no" supporters on the Left, of their mystifying triumphalism and incapacity to form an international and internationalist analysis.

An overall blindness

To anyone interested in political life in France over the past few years, some things never change. Bourgeois politicians think that their imperialism is still as powerful as it was in the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th ; and as for revolutionaries, they seem to act as if the opinion of Marx on the political superiority of the French workers’ movement were still significant a century and a half later, as if we still lived in the period opened by the Revolution of 1789 and closed by the Paris Commune, the period in which the French proletariat might have been the vanguard of other proletariats through its determination to confront the State in 1789, 1830, 1848 and 1871.

Curiously, both conservatives and revolutionaries refuse to see the political consequences of a new reality : France is a militarily declining and economically threatened imperialist power that cannot keep its rank among the capitalist powers without forming tight trans-national economic and political alliances. These alliances are vital for the French bourgeoisie in its European project and this explains why this bourgeoisie is ready to abandon part of its "national sovereignty".

Faced with this situation, revolutionaries have been incapable, during the last fifty years which saw the progressive construction of European institutions, to set up regular connections with their comrades in other countries (Europeans or not), to construct a theory and facilitate action on all the issues : retirement pensions, wages, immigration, police repression, justice, health and education, etc. And when two of the three main trotskyist organisations, Lutte ouvrière (Workers Struggle) and the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (Revolutionary Communist League) have had 5 MPs in the European Parliament for a legislature, was it of any use ? Did these five years of presence inside European institutions help them to prepare a vigorous battle against the constitutional Treaty and its consequences, not only in France but in all Europe ?

Judging by the absence of collaboration between European revolutionary groups during the year which preceded the French referendum and the "no" campaign, it is tempting to answer no to both questions. And anarchists and libertarians as well, in nearly all the countries of Europe, have also been incapable of leading the smallest international campaign against the Treaty or the issues it raises. What are the causes for this lack of internationalism so highly vaunted by Trotskyists and anarchists alike (1) ?

This overall political blindness concerning the decline of French imperialism, the incapacity to act and reflect on the European level, let alone the world level, has a fundamental reason : the reactionaries and reformists, and even some on the supposedly "revolutionary" Marxist Left, share the same national lenses fogged by a jacobine universalism and republicanism. For the Marxist Far Left, its French references (from Jaurès to Bourdieu, via Nizan, Bettelheim, Politzer or Poulantzas) are all social-democrat or Stalinist statists. And when they read anything written outside France, they don’t encounter any criticism of the State in the writings of the Bolsheviks and about the "heyday" of the Third International because it was that current which theorized the domination of the Party over the trade unions, the factory commitees, workers councils, the State… and the working class.

As for the anarchists, their intellectual references, although not statist, are also primarily Franco-French. Some libertarians relentlessly harp on a past, albeit a rich one (Proudhon, the Reclus brothers, Fernand Pelloutier, George Sorel, Sébastien Faure, Jean Grave, Emile Pouget, etc.), but for which they harbour a distinctly uncritical nostalgia ; for many anarcho-syndicalists, it often seems that revolutionary syndicalism before 1914 constitutes a kind of unsurpassable horizon ; younger anarchists are frequently attracted by the verbal juggleries and style of the Situationists and neo-Situationists that are hard to count as indispensable in the daily political struggle against Capital, or when they are eager to know new responses, they devour, like all the young Trotskyists as well, the prose of the statist Left from ATTAC to Bourdieu, without always avoiding the traps.

As far as I know, even the daily political reflection of the most informed libertarians scarcely appears to draw from current or past analyses done by anarchists in other countries. Very few works by US, Spanish, Argentinian, German, Italian and other anarchists are translated into French, and those that are (Murray Bookchin and Noam Chomsky are without a doubt the most well-known) are hardly brilliant in their radicalness, however interesting they might be. For different reasons, Trotskyist and anarchist French revolutionaries have not done well in distancing themselves from their own histories and their two national traditions, Jacobine and revolutionary syndicalist, respectively.

The ideological depths of both Left and Right : the cult of the State and nation

There exists, whether it pleases them or not to hear this, a national political rhetoric common to both Right and Left, even the Far Left in some cases. In various proportions and in different ways, this rhetoric draws from common themes : the Enlightenment, the universality of the Rights of Man, republican and secular ideology, supposed "municipal democracy", an idealized vision of the Resistance under German Occupation, the myth of the neutrality of the public services and, more recently, the ideology that has grown with the altermondialist movement : "participatory democracy," and "citoyennisme" (citizenism, the belief that the bourgeois State can guarantee the equality of all citizens), which draws from the French national-statist political tradition and boils down to a blind faith in the lies and illusions of bourgeois democracy.

Of course, all the republicans, partisans of secularism and even citizenists are not chauvinists of the worst variety and their jacobine-secular universalism defends also some very positive concepts. But even when they invoke vague internationalist or altermondialist values, they are incapable of breaking practically with the ideology that has taken numerous forms during the history of the class struggle in France. This ideology is based on the cult of the State and its institutions, the belief in its protective, progressive, nearly messianic role, an uncritical relationship with parliamentarianism and other ways of confiscating the will of the people. And over the last few years, the campaigns against the MAI agreement, or more recently, the Bolkenstein directive, has been marked by a disturbing national unity from Right to Left around the theme of the superiority of the "French model", "French social model" or of the "French cultural exception," themes which reflect a long tradition of which I will give some examples here.

During the Revolution of 1789, the French State claimed to struggle against all the European monarchies and so constitute a progressive factor for the people, and this myth still endures two centuries later, without the Left being able to distance itself from it ; under Napoleon, the imperial State claimed to consolidate the Revolution’s conquests by exporting them to Spain, Italy, Portugal, Belgium, etc., with the help of French bayonets ; in the 19th century, the Second Empire of Napoleon III tried to play the national unity card and form an alliance between the antagonistic classes, what Marx correctly called "Bonapartism," and Napoleon the Little tried to to contain the Empire’s newly born workers’ movement.

In 1914, the socialist parties and trade unions shamefully capitulated, refusing to call a general strike against World War I, a strike they had talked about for years in their congress motions, and the socialists voted for war credits.

During the 1930’s, Belgian socialist currents (De Man) and French ones (notably Marcel Déat, a "neo-socialist") defended the idea that strong State economic involvement was necessary to handle the international crisis of capitalism and distance the middle class from the call of fascism. Members of the SFIO (French Section of the Workers’ International, the socialist party), the "planistes" (strong supporters of planning) offered their services to the regime of Marshal Pétain, while others were later part of starting the Common Market (André Philip).

During the Resistance and the government of national unity presided over by De Gaulle between 1945 and 1947, there was another version of national unity in the name of the "struggle against fascism" and "Let each of us kill a Kraut" (Communist Party) and then in the name of the indispensable reconstruction of French capitalism ("The strike is the weapon of the trusts," Maurice Thorez, general secretary of the CP).

Since 1945 incidentally, the Left and (Gaullist) Right joined in evoking the "social conquests of the Resistance," forgetting the price paid for them-making the workers toil for starvation wages, stuffing the pockets of the bosses and the State for decades and supporting all the colonial and neo-colonial adventures of French imperialism.

Under the Fifth Republic from 1958 to 1969, this cult of the State and its supposed protective and "wealth re-distributing" role grew notably via the economic plans and charisma of DeGaulle, whose anti-US foreign policy was supported by the French Communist Party, the same party that led the repugnant campaign in the 70’s, ""Let’s produce French" ; and during negotiations on the Common Program in the 1970’s and the first two tears of the 1981-83 united Left government, we still had a "Left" version of this national-statist ideology : the nationalization of some banks, insurance companies and key industries was supposedly going to change the lives of all the oppressed and exploited.

A "no" campaign in which internationalism has been totally absent

In 2005 with the so-called "NO of the Left" campaign, supported by the clowns of the "Socialist Party Left" and part of the altermondialist movement, without forgetting the inevitable LCR (2), we have winessed a new blossoming of the statist ideology, clearly evident in their writings and propaganda.

The "NO of the Left" campaign has tolerated or stirred among the electorate and Left sympathizers the most ambiguous forms of anti-US sentiment in the name of denunciations of NATO and the WTO, as well as xenophobic sentiments against :

- the unfortunately famous "Polish plumbers" (3) (it has just been learned after the elections that there were only 150 to 180 of them in all of France),
- the Chinese textile industry (on Monday, May 30, 2005, during a televised report on the European Constitution referendum on France 2 TV, a CGT rep had the cynicism and audacity to denounce "Chinese competition" without once mentioning the fate of 19 million Chinese workers superexploited in their country)
- or the entry of Turkey into the EU (reviving xenophobic, racist and anti-Muslim prejudices).

Faced with this resurgence of nationalist prejudice, the so-called Far Left and the reformist Left chose to turn a deaf ear toward the phenomenon and minimize it because it wanted to surf on the "NO of the Left" wave. Furthermore, it is particularly disgusting to see the Far Left claim the "NO of the Left" had an "internationalist" dimension while it had been incapable, since the strong probability of a referendum was announced, of organizing the smallest campaign, even a set of meetings, of revolutionary forces of different EU countries to critique the Constitutional Treaty and explain the real issues for all European proletarians, not only the French ones. And, considered overall, this "no" vote (there was no means of distinguishing between Right "no" votes and Left "no" votes) was far from internationalist since 42 % of "no" voters think that "there are too many foreigners in France" compared to 21 % of "yes" voters. And the National Front (a coalition of far right militants, ultraconservative catholics and neofascists) voters were better mobilized to get out the "no" vote (90 %) than those of the Far Left. Today there is no way to differenciate the Left from the No voters : if the Far Left had wanted to, it could have printed its own ballots and massively distribute them during an internationalist campaign. But that would probably have disturbed all electoral conventions…

Where did the 6 million votes for Le Pen and de Villiers go ?

Far from being a working-class "victory" or "the masses’ revenge for Maastricht" (Alternative libertaire, Libertarian Alternative), the "no" pseudo "victory" is the progeny of an unnatural alliance between 6 million Le Pen and de Villiers voters (whose xenophobic and racist positions need no further explanation here) with 9 million CP and SP voters (and this estimate is optimististic because it assumes that the traditional Right did not make the slightest contribution to the "no" camp, which is completely inaccurate considering there is a sovereignist Right). Such a "victory" has nothing to do with defending the interests of the exploited.

What chutzpah (and some scorn, too, for the intelligence of workers) it takes to affirm that the "no" "marginalized the Far Right" ! These are the same people who explained that it was necessary to vote for Chirac in 2002 because 5 million Le Pen voters represented a fascist danger ? Do they want us to believe that these 5 million dangerous voters have today disappeared in a puff of smoke-or withdrawn into their caves, may be ?

A "big symbolic victory" ? A "huge hope" ? The anarcho-electoralists of Libertarian Alternative also naively reveal their lack of political vision when they write, without laughing, that the "no victory" is a "small social victory" and a "big symbolic victory." Here is what revolutionaries have been reduced to today-rejoicing at electoral victories, "symbolic" ones at that, or the "huge hope" (LCR) raised by the results of a referendum-plebiscite which turned against Chirac. Incidentally, in their daily propaganda, our revolutionaries hardly talk about destroying the bourgeois State, forming workers’ councils, eliminating the wage system, money and hierarchy, radically reorganizing production and social life. They would rather call for a "break with capitalism" (LCR) just like Mitterrand before 1981 or threatening to "make the capitalist tremble" (Libertarian Alternative). During the Transeuropéennes TV show on Thursday, May 31, Alain Krivine, LCR leader, calmly explained that "what the people want is a France of solidarity with full employment and fair redistribution of wealth." Well, it’s maybe what "the people" want, but if that’s all the revolutionaries have to suggest to the workers when they have the incredible opportunity to explain their proposals on TV, frankly they would be wiser if they kept quiet rather than serve as mouthpieces for the most moderate proletarians.

As for the "other social, democratic, environmentalist and feminist Europe," it is only a smokescreen ; it is lying to claim that it can be magically found in the ballot boxes and by giving "critical" support to Left politicards.

It is lying to make believe that it could come out of a "Constituent Assembly" (4) with proportional representation, which would give the National Front solid representation with its 5 million voters, without counting all the other reactionary forces that could be unleashed if we remain within the framework of traditional bourgeois democracy.

It is lying to affirm that this "other Europe" could come about by holding another European Social Forum, which would only allow all kinds of discredited Left politicians to become born-again virgins.

Far Left militants have very little confidence in the power and accuracy of their ideas to believe that an electoral pseudo-victory could "lift the masses’ morale" (Libertarian Alternative). It was exactly the reasoning as well of the LCR or the OCI (Organisation communiste internationaliste, Internationalist Communist Organization, predecessor of the present Workers Party) in 1981 when they explained that the coming to power of Mitterrand was going to raise the hopes of the masses, and that these masses would then "outflank the apparati" We have seen the result : an exponential increase in unemployment, the decline of the metallurgy, mining, shipbuilding and auto industries and overall degradation of all the so-called "public services," systematic attacks against immigrant workers and blossoming of the National Front and the public expression of racist ideas and behaviour, etc.

The workers who voted "no" are perhaps temporarily happy that they’ve aimed a slap at Chirac and some other representatives of the ruling class. But for the moment, they have NO OTHER POLITICAL PERSPECTIVE than granting power to another part of that same class-the Left that carries out anti-worker policies every time it is in the government. Workers don’t have enough confidence in themselves to take matters into their own hands, taking over the factories and offices, eliminating all hierarchies, shedding themselves of all the repressive forces of the State, putting in place their own power and radically changing all means of production. "NO of the Left" supporters are only reinforcing their illusions about the usefulness and effectiveness of elections, illusions which - everyone knows perfectly well - will be betrayed tomorrow.

"NO of the Left" manoeuvres

The way the Left explains to us the so-called "no victory" demonstrates once again the incurable nationalism of its leaders. In fact, what did the pseudo-Left leaders of the Socialist Party declare upon learning the election results on Sunday, May 28 ?

"I’m proud to be French" (Henri Emmanuelli) "Our country has a high conception of politics and rejects an unregulated market economy" (Marie-Thérèse Lienemann) "Breaking with capitalism is an empty dream" (Arnaud Montebourg).

The trio of Dolez-Filoche-Généreux toured France and had about 90 meetings for the "NO of the Left." They reveled in the "buoyancy" of "the French people" demonstrating in the streets "like May 1981" (in limited numbers anyway). But our three musketeers forgot to mention all the blows suffered by the working class at the hands of the Left in power since those jubilant demonstrations. Loyal to the most arrogant French nationalist tradition, our three "Left socialists"dared to write that "the French ’no’ has created the possibility of an authentic democratic rebuilding of Europe. It lets the rest of Europe know that pro-Europeans have the right to say ’no’ without threatening the construction of Europe," "France must provide the impetus necessary for a new renegotiation," etc.

Not only do our three crackpots trumpet words like "la France" and the "construction of Europe," and not only do they reason in the same way as Chirac, still believing that France will be the political head of Europe, but they also deliberately hide the fact that their construction of Europe, whether led by social-liberals or social-democrats, is and will inevitably be an attempt to construct a new imperialist power of unimaginable proportions. Certainly, we don’t know yet whether this future imperialist power will come into being and with what political institutions it will be endowed, but the EU already has its own money and will someday have its own ultramodern military, ready to intervene on all continents if it wants to carry out its role completely against US imperialism and the emerging capitalist powers of India, China and other Asian countries.

The SP pseudo-Left has already concocted itself a sweet program : "unity of all socialist tendencies," "Left unity" and a "new, democratic European constitution." In other words, they want to have the catbird seat in the next bourgeois Left government and participate in running European imperialism while giving it a democratic facade.

The Communist Party continues to wallow in its respect for the bourgeois State cult while asking Chirac (Chirac !) to "forcefully represent the voice of our people and demand renegotiation of the Treaty through real popular debate in Europe."

ATTAC has its chauvinism, too, since it proposes a tour of Europe "to explain the French ’no’," as if Europeans were too stupid to understand and have been waiting for the altermondialists to illuminate the issues behind the construction of European imperialism. In it editorial of Le Monde diplomatique of June 2005 Ignacio Ramonet, member of ATTAC, gives us a perfect example of Left chauvinism : " (…) Rebellious France has honored its tradition of a political nation. It has retaken its historic mission. (…) Since its beginning, in 1958, the European construction has exerted a more and more coercive power on all national decisions". Altermondialists are right to criticize the reactionary content of the European Constitutional Treaty, but their leaders denounce "neoliberalism" (which is a hypocrit name for capitalism) only in the name of the French nation interests, that is of French imperialism.

A revolutionary attitude would consist not of "explaining the French ’no’" to other Europeans but of creating together, with all the revolutionary forces of the continent, analysis and actions to counter the propaganda and attacks of the European ruling classes. But we are far from that ...and it is not in any way the objective of ATTAC and the parties of the Left.

The Far Left hawkers of Fabius, Bové and tutti quanti

Faced with the manoeuvres of the crude Left politicians who no doubt plan to put a "social-liberal" (aka bourgeois) like Fabius back in the saddle, the Far Left has basically no plan to suggest other than calling for a Left victory in 2007, while dressing up that call with its usual hypocritical flirtation with a "workers’ government," "an anti-capitalist government," etc., all formulas that are only code for Union of the Left or Plural Left.

The Parti des travailleurs (Workers Party) militants have their own committees, but be sure that they’ll call for voting CP-SP. Lutte ouvrière (Workers Struggle) has not immersed itself in the "no" committees, but it too has called for a "no" vote in the referendum and will certainly call for voting CP, even SP, in 2007, as it does in almost every election.

The LCR participated in the "no" committees alongside its opponents from the SP, the Greens and some CP militants. Two days before the "victory," some LCR leaders were already confiding to Libération that they intended to continue the committees after the elections in order to push the Left into power. And on Tuesday, May 31, faced with accusations of divisiveness by ex-SP minister Moscovici, Alain Krivine could only defend himself by swearing he was "1000 % in favor of unity" , okay, but what about anything not related to putting Left politicians in power ? By the way, didn’t Clémentine Autain (CP) craftily suggest on Monday, May 30, on I-télé that it wasn’t necessary to "talk right away about presidential elections in 2007," if not it would destroy the No committees ? What a nice confession that reveals the ulterior motives of all these so-called adversaries of "social-liberalism" with whom the LCR wants to ally itself, supposedly to unmask them… later !

The manipulators of the Left and Far Left are slowly going to stir things up with the support of the altermondialists and maybe even some libertarians to eventually pull Fabius out of their hat (or why not Bové ?) for the presidential elections. But what do workers have to win by betting on those horses ? Bitter disillusionment and new vicious blows if they don’t mobilize themselves in their own class interests and ignore electoral Sirens. The struggle will be long and difficult, but it will never happen through the ballot box or political combinations dangled before us by the Left and Far Left.


1. Above all, this article attempts to criticize the analyses put forward by the "Left of the NO" and the Far Left, as well as a libertarian group involved in electoral tactics since 2002 (Alternative Libertaire, Libertarian Alternative). The discourse of that small organization reflects the illusions and pressures of a much larger milieu, the altermondialist-Far Left-citizenist movement. The avowed radical anti-statism and anti-nationalism of traditionally abstentionist anarchists (Fédération anarchiste, CNT-Vignoles, CNT-AIT, OCL, etc.) should have, in principle, prepared them more than anyone else for the serious practice of internationalism, at least at the European level. Reading their press and propaganda shows that they are apparently incapable, and have been so for decades, of building an international network of analysis and action. Not being that familiar with their milieu, I cannot clearly distinguish the deepest reasons, but the overall report has been pretty damning ever since the failure of the First International more than a century ago.

2. When he read this text, an LCR comrade was shocked by what he thought is an unfair connection made between the bourgeois Left and his organization, but it’s hard to understand his indignation when the favorite slogan of the LCR for years has been "100% to the Left !" and when it struggles for a "real Left" while what we saw during the "NO of the Left" campaign was Olivier Besancenot parading alongside Buffet, Melenchon and other Left politicians without addressing any criticism.

3. For what is happening in the new EU countries, those who read English will benefit from Prol-position #2 : Readers will see that a small revolutionary group can do perfectly well in collecting useful info on workers’ struggles in Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, etc., reflecting upon the effect of workers migrating from Eastern Europe on an imperialist power like Germany, for example, getting past generalities on "liberal" Europe (aka imperialist) and crafting polemics around of the European Constitutional Treaty, polemics which are fit for constitutional lawyers.

4. Those who invoke the need for a new "Constituent Assembly" that two hundred year old myth playing on the French Jacobin fibre so present among the "Left sovereignists," don’t seem to realize that that Assembly played a role during a revolution of the bourgeoisie against the monarchy !

But that isn’t very different from Lutte ouvrière (Workers Struggle) leader Robert Barcia, alias Hardy, explaining that workers councils resemble our present municipal councils during his only TV appearance.

We find in these two arguments the same incapacity to draw from the revolutionary experiences of countries other than France, due to lack of courage, socalled "pedagogical" preoccupations and/or an incapacity to produce solid political analyses in conjunction with the militant revolutionaries of other countries.

It is also characteristic that French militants continue to wallow in the nostalgia of May ’68 movement in France, the radicality and importance of which are so completely reduced when compared with the rich ten years of the Italian Mays or the much more radicalized factory occupations and commissions by Portugese workers during 1974 and 1975.

The "68er" intelligentsia, who became part of the media and political elite of the Left and is so imbued with itself, has strongly influence the vision that the French Far Left has of its own history. Therefore, forty years later, these militants have not yet integrated into their reasoning that what’s called "the subversive Sixties" was in fact begun in the US and that its most radical peaks appeared in Italy and Portugal, which very much contextualizes the historic significance of May ’68. And if we add to that what happened in countries like Czechoslovakia and Mexico, we can then give the French May ’68 more exact and-most important-less chauvinistic proportions.

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