Workers Vanguard No. 1146
14 December 2018
The Working Class Must Lead Fight Against Capitalist Government
Yellow Vest Protests Rock France
We print below a translation of a December 6 leaflet issued by our comrades of the Ligue trotskyste de France, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist). It was first distributed two days later in Paris to Yellow Vest protests, so called because protesters wear vests that vehicle owners are required to possess for use in the event of a breakdown.
The increase in fuel taxes imposed by the Macron government has inflamed anger that had been accumulating for a very long time. Introduced in the name of an “energy transition” [away from fossil fuels], these regressive taxes hit all working people. Their sole purpose is to restore the rate of profit of French imperialism, which is in sharp decline relative to its competitors. The struggle of the Yellow Vests against this grossly elitist measure is in the interest of the working class. The government has unleashed its machinery of repression against this movement: Hundreds have been injured and hundreds more arrested. We demand the immediate release and the dropping of all charges against all those arrested! Faced with the popularity of the Yellow Vests, which increased greatly after the crackdown, President Macron tried to defuse the anger by suspending and then canceling the new taxes. This was correctly perceived as offering mere crumbs.
Socially and politically heterogeneous, the Yellow Vests are independent of the trade unions and of working-class parties. They include workers (mostly employees of small companies, where unions don’t exist), a mass of pensioners driven into poverty and many small artisans and self-employed tradespeople. The movement has drawn up a list of demands that has expanded well beyond the issue of fuel. These demands, some of which are supportable and others purely reactionary, reflect the petty-bourgeois leadership of the mobilization. Having no independent class interests, the petty bourgeoisie oscillates between the two fundamental classes of capitalist society, the bourgeoisie and the working class.
The labor movement must seek to take the lead of the protests in order to turn them against the real culprit: capitalism. It is the working class that through its labor produces profits, the raison d’être of capitalism. Only the working class has the power to cut off the flow of profits by stopping work; it alone has the historic interest to overthrow capitalism and replace it with workers power.
Many Yellow Vests perceive only the multiple betrayals of the trade-union bureaucracy [e.g., the leaders of the CGT, CFDT and FO union federations]. Laurent Berger of the CFDT openly supports the government, and CGT leader Philippe Martinez called for a vote to Emmanuel Macron last year—a betrayal, even when the opposing candidate was [National Rally leader] Marine Le Pen. The CGT leadership has turned its back on the Yellow Vest mobilizations. On December 1, the nationwide demonstration against unemployment called by the CGT in Paris ended up marching in the opposite direction from the Yellow Vest protest! But the unions do not consist merely of their pro-capitalist leaders! They are the elementary organs of defense of the working class. Without the unions, workers are atomized, powerless individuals against the capitalists and their state, which is an apparatus of organized violence—with its cops, judges and army—that serves to ensure capitalist rule.
The indifference or outright hostility of many Yellow Vest protesters toward the trade unions also reflects in part the weakness of the unions. This is a result of the systematic anti-union attacks waged by Macron and his predecessors, including the social-democratic Socialist Party, which culminated last spring in the liquidation of the railway workers’ statut (special status)—hard-won rights offering a level of job protection, decent retirement and pay. But every day new sectors of the working class are taking up the fight against the government. Dockers and refinery workers are planning strikes next week, and the CGT and FO have talked about an open-ended truckers strike starting Monday, December 10. These workers have enormous social power, which could also inspire railway workers to ram Macron’s “reform” of the national railway down his throat. This fight can put a swift end to the government’s plans to slash the health care system, pensions and unemployment insurance in 2019.
What is needed is a class-struggle leadership in the unions, as against the bureaucrats who have embraced the idea that French capitalism must “modernize” to keep up with its competitors. Martinez & Co. would simply prefer that this happen without the workers being crushed too much, if possible. Well no, it’s not possible. It takes fierce class struggle to extract or defend even the slightest concession from the capitalist bloodsuckers.
For a Class-Struggle Program!
The fight for a class-struggle leadership in the unions goes hand in hand with the struggle for a new party, a multiethnic and multiracial revolutionary vanguard workers party, a party that is the tribune of the people. In this way, the working class can take the lead in the struggle of all the oppressed to overthrow the capitalist system, advancing its own slogans and class perspective in opposition to the bourgeoisie and its government.
What is necessary is a massive wage increase across the board, with a sliding scale to offset inflation. To combat unemployment, we need a massive reduction in working hours, with no loss in pay, in order to get all the unemployed hired and to spread the work among all available workers. It is necessary to extend the wages and working conditions wrested by the unions in the largest companies to all subcontractors, as well as to posted and temporary workers and to fixed-term employees, who are hired on the cheap in order to set workers against each other. [Posted workers are migrant workers within the European Union (EU).] There is a direct link between a struggle for such demands and a fight to organize the unorganized and forge industrial unions that bring together in a single organization all the workers of a given industry. It is with these slogans that the unions can be revitalized.
The issue of posted workers raises the need for class struggle to put an end to the EU, whose directives serve as a battering ram in every member country, including France and Germany, to destroy the gains of all workers. The EU is a reactionary and unstable capitalist alliance that mainly benefits the German and French imperialists against their rivals, the United States and Japan. Down with the European Union and the euro!
This issue also raises the need to fight for full citizenship rights for all who have made it here. This is a vital measure for the unity of the working class in France and therefore for its potential for struggle. The Yellow Vests demand that asylum-seekers be treated well, but they also raise demands about them that are worthy of Le Pen, such as the deportation of rejected asylum-seekers and the detention of asylum-seekers in refugee camps overseen by the UN, that den of imperialist thieves and their victims. Counterposed to these anti-immigrant demands, we say: No deportations!
The capitalists can be expected to oppose our demands by shrieking that they are unrealistic and impossible. If capitalism cannot satisfy demands that are vital to the very survival of the working class and the oppressed, then let it perish!
Down With University Tuition Fees!
In big cities and in many working-class neighborhoods with a large number of people of North African and sub-Saharan African origin, the cops and gendarmes have been attacking high school students with clubs and tear gas. These attacks occur just as they begin to join the demonstrations in solidarity with the Yellow Vests and in protest against Macron’s racist system of selection for university admission called “Parcoursup.” The labor movement must defend the youth of these neighborhoods! Down with Vigipirate [police and military “anti-terror” operations]! Down with the racist “war on terror”!
The government just announced offhandedly a tenfold increase in university enrollment fees for foreign students. This is a first step toward generalizing such increases and denying youth from poor families access to higher education. And this is happening even as France is already one of the most unequal countries in the developed capitalist world as far as education is concerned! For free, quality public education available to all and adequate living stipends! For open admissions to higher education!
Cops and Fascists: Enemies of Working Class, Yellow Vests
At the December 1 protest in Paris, the cops, according to their own figures, launched 37,000 gallons of pressurized water and 13,500 grenades of various types on some 10,000 protesters! This intense repression shows the role that the cops play: They are the guard dogs of capital, part of the core of the capitalist state. When the Yellow Vests demand “that substantial means be allocated to the justice system, the police, the gendarmes and the army,” they are asking for the means of repression that will be used against themselves! Cops, prison guards, customs officers and security guards should have no place in the workers’ trade-union federations (including the CGT and SUD). They are not workers!
A well-known fascist, Yvan Benedetti, head of the ultra-Pétainist Œuvre française (which was banned in 2013), was spotted on December 1 wearing a yellow vest near the Arc de Triomphe, where he took a few well-placed punches to the face. If the working class truly takes up the fight under its own banner and there is a possibility that the cops might prove insufficient, the bourgeoisie will not hesitate to unleash its extra-parliamentary shock troops, the fascist thugs, against the working class. The whole purpose of the fascists is to physically annihilate the workers movement and carry out racist pogroms—and the French bourgeoisie is prepared to do anything to maintain its class rule. The working class must mobilize at the head of all the intended victims of the fascists to drive them back into their holes before they can grow.
Environmentalism and Fuel Taxes
For years, the left, infatuated with the “fight against global warming,” has been repeating the argument for fuel taxes. Global warming does exist, and human activity undoubtedly plays a role in it. But when Macron’s capitalist government claims to be concerned about it, this can only be to boost Peugeot as the automaker prepares to launch production of hybrid vehicles in 2019, while filling the state coffers in order to finance new gifts to the bosses.
At its recent congress, the “eco-communist” French Communist Party definitively dumped the hammer and sickle in favor of an emblem featuring...the leaf of a tree. As for the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA), it discusses with the utmost seriousness the need for “degrowth” (cutting consumption and production), even as the workers and the poor are able to put less and less food on the table. Thus, at the NPA’s most recent congress the “Anti-Capitalism and Revolution” tendency, though itself less “green” than the Olivier Besancenot clique, pushed a “transitional anti-capitalist program, focused on challenging the use of polluting forms of energy.”
The labor movement will be able to develop plans to mitigate the impact of global warming only within the framework of a socialist economy on a world scale, after taking power and committing to greatly reducing global poverty through a qualitative increase in the productive forces. (See “Capitalism and Global Warming,” WV Nos. 965 and 966, 24 September and 8 October 2010.)
Against Bourgeois Populism, We Need a Leninist Workers Party!
Today, the labor movement finds itself marginalized for the first time in a mobilization of this magnitude against the government. If that does not change, the political winners may well be the bourgeois populists, who are the enemies of the working class, be it the fascistic racists lined up behind Le Pen or the supporters of [the left-wing France Unbowed’s] Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Mélenchon has insisted for years that his movement defends the interests of “the people,” which is an attempt to disappear the division of society into two fundamental classes.
The interests of “the people”—what irony! Mélenchon’s supporters campaigned in 2017 for “environmental planning,” demanding a “commitment to end diesel fuel.” As faithful defenders of capitalist institutions, they are now trying to channel popular anger into new elections. As a Yellow Vest protester put it, “We are asked to choose between two evils” (l’Humanité, 3 December). This is the role of elections under capitalism: to decide once every three or six years which member of the ruling class should sit in parliament to “represent” and trample on the people.
The Yellow Vests chant, “Macron resign,” but if the working class does not take the lead in the struggle to overthrow capitalism, Macron’s resignation would result in his replacement by one of his clones, or by one or another populist demagogue. The deep social crisis cries out for a new, revolutionary leadership of the working class. We are fighting to build such a party on the model of the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky, who led the first victorious proletarian revolution, in Russia in October 1917. Reforge the Fourth International!