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Ted Crawford attended on behalf of Revolutionary History and the Marxist Internet Archive.

Lutte Ouvriere Fête, May, 2004

Ted Crawford


The Saturday was hot and most pleasant but on the Sunday morning the rain poured down and clearly a lot of people were put off coming though in the afternoon is was as crowded as usual.. We were running two stalls and we only had three comrades to do so and I was the only one with any French so I was unable to get around as much as I would have liked and chat to people. But a pleasant time was had and we hung at the back of the Revolutionary History stall the old RCP banner that we found among Al Richardson's files.

Attendance of the political groups was worse than previous years. The non-LO stands are increasingly becoming those of publications like ourselves or single issue campaigns. The only stalls of English speaking groups this year were the AWL, the IBTs (the Sparts with charm and good manners) and the LO US affiliate Spark. Of course a whole number of small left wing groups, including the British SWP affiliate, have entered the LCR and thus have no independent stand but I would have thought that since they do not have a stall where they can sell their material their English comrades should sell such French stuff as well as their English publications and therefore should attend.

Apart from the failure of other tendencies to appear, I would make two broad comments about the Fete. Looking at the long term and thinking back over the past 15 years, it seems to me that there is definitely less of a North African presence than before. I doubt if LO would, or indeed could, keep statistics on this but that is my subjective impression. Now I do not think that this is LO's fault and I certainly do not think that this is the result of their hard line against the hijab etc but rather it arises from deep changes within French society and the increasing estrangement of many who originate from Islamic lands. If you are close to, and part of working class society as I believe LO is, then changes within the working class will affect you, it cannot be avoided. Secondly I cannot help still being struck as to what a happy place it is for children. I do not say that you will never see a crying child but you seldom do and working class families enjoy themselves immensely.

Now politics. Although there was a certain amount of propaganda about the Iraq war it is I think, a slightly less immediate issue in France than here since French troops are not involved though a big demonstration was being called for the visit of Bush to Paris on Saturday 5th June. But I had some interesting conversations. I was told that within the LCR there were innumerable fractions and it seemed unable to take a line on almost anything. Allegedly the whole South East of France LCR was paralysed because a young Muslim girl who wanted to join them (they should be so lucky) insisted on wearing the hijab. So busy were they being for or against (the criteria for membership is now decided regionally rather than centrally) that nothing was being done. It was said that the group affiliated to the British SWP who had entered seemed to have done so without any clear idea at all of what they intended to do within the LCR. (The rules of the LCR state that, if you have a fraction, you can call meetings but they have to be open to other LCRers so the other state capitalists naturally attend such meetings.)

Speaking with an old mate from 1968, I asked how his activity in the Post Office Union was going. "But I'm retired" he said, at 61. They were getting rid of anybody a bit older and just as in 1871 General Gallifet picked out any Communard with grey hair to be shot, (since he must have been a veteran of 1848) so the bosses were trying to get rid of anybody who had experienced 1968. It was less violent but.... He thought that France copied all Britain's dreadful polices that affected the working class with a delay of about 5 years. "We are just five years behind you". The working class was passive, beaten down and did not expect anything better though they were quite aware that they were being screwed by the wealthy.

I also spoke with the faction within LO "Convergences Revolutionnaires" who produce a paper. I had said in the past that I could not see where they were different from LO. This year I asked them about this. They have two points of disagreement.

1) They say that whatever type of state the Soviet Union was Russia is now a plain vanilla capitalist state. LO still thinks it is a bureaucratic and by implication workers state. I told them I had just been in St Petersburg and yes, it was a capitalist state (even if bureaucratic and deformed too), they were correct but this was no basis for a split or anything. We both agreed here.

2) They thought that LO should open out to the other groups. So I asked them how. I may have misunderstood about it when speaking to them I could not see how they had any concrete difference on this with the LO leadership. They did not seem to be entrists or anything like that.

More broadly still there is the problem of what to do, both in France and the other developed counties, as the structure of the working class and thus its consciousness changes. LO's position is to do the same thing as always even though of course their activity is concentrated in a smaller and smaller pool as the working class in its old form with its old consciousness becomes smaller while the LCR's is to recognise the change and to jump uncritically on board with any mildly progressive movement even it is totally oriented to other social layers. And how do you deal with the Islamicists? They are a symptom not a cause since they reflect the lack of class consciousness not merely in their own ranks but in those of the other parts of the French working class around them. Somehow you have to "Hate the Sin but Love the Sinner" if the Christianity of that approach can be forgiven! All of this would tax the brain of a Trotsky and modesty compels me to admit I am not quite up to his standard - not quite.

But that is too pessimistic. Revolutionary History had a warm welcome from those who know us. The MIA was also welcomed and it was when someone said in excited tones how they had got an email from someone they knew in Francophone West Africa who was overjoyed at getting access to all this Marxist literature on the web that I felt we were, in however tiny a way, making a difference

 

June 2004

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Readers' Note;
 
The reference to the RCP banner indicates the RCP of the 1940's from which the majority of today's left organisation sprung rather than the later RCP associated with 'Living Marxism'

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