Monday, 24 April 2017

French Elections – For An Active Abstention In The Second Round

The second round of the French Presidential Election will be between Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron. Socialists should advise an active abstention. Workers have no interest in choosing between two bourgeois candidates, any more than we should choose between hanging or the guillotine as a means of our own murder. We choose neither, and declare a plague on both their houses.

For socialists, elections are not an end in themselves. Lenin, in The State and Revolution, says,

“We must also note that Engels is most explicit in calling universal suffrage as well an instrument of bourgeois rule. Universal suffrage, he says, obviously taking account of the long experience of German Social-Democracy, is

“the gauge of the maturity of the working class. It cannot and never will be anything more in the present-day state."

The petty-bourgeois democrats, such as our Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, and also their twin brothers, all the social-chauvinists and opportunists of Western Europe, expect just this “more” from universal suffrage. They themselves share, and instil into the minds of the people, the false notion that universal suffrage “in the present-day state" is really capable of revealing the will of the majority of the working people and of securing its realization.”

A refusal to choose in an election between executioners is equally such a manifestation of that maturity, when workers do not have a candidate from a workers' party to vote for. We do not advise workers to vote for simply the lesser-evil, in such cases, because such advice is only to miseducate workers both about the nature of bourgeois democracy, and of their own interests and the need to organise themselves as a class. We are not parliamentary cretins, who tell the workers that any chance to vote is better than no chance to vote.

When we advise workers to support a workers party like the Labour Party in Britain, or the Socialist Party in France, or even the Democrats in the US, even though all these parties are bourgeois, in terms of the definition of their ideology, it is not because of any pretence that these parties are merely some “lesser-evil”, compared to the other parties, but is precisely on the basis that, as workers' parties, they are a gauge of the maturity of the working-class, and its own ideas, and class consciousness. We advise support for such parties, only in the context of building the organisation, and developing the class consciousness of the working-class. In so doing, we subject the existing ideology and programme of those workers' parties to the utmost scrutiny and criticism, explaining its deficiencies to the workers, as we stand alongside them during the election campaign, or other activities undertaken by workers via that party. 

We do not refrain from setting forth our own ideas, in contrast to the existing programme of the workers' party; not in a sectarian, take it or leave it, fashion, but on the basis of an open discussion with workers, so that they are able to see, in practice, as we work with them, inside their existing organisations, where we have been proved right, in terms of the deficiencies of their existing organisations, and how our alternative ideas would have served them better. As consistent democrats, we accept, and act upon the democratic decisions of the workers organisations, including the workers' party, but that acceptance does not in any way deny us the right to continue to argue that the decisions that were taken were wrong, and should be changed. Indeed, that is a fundamental aspect of all democracy.

“As the experiences of the Russian Revolution teach us – remember this in England and America! – the most important thing of all is to stay in the midst of the masses of workers. You will often go wrong with them, but never leave the mass organisations of the working class, however reactionary they may be at any given moment”.

(Zinoviev’s closing speech at the 15th Session of the Second Congress of the Comintern) 

But, isn't Le Pen a fascist, I hear you ask. Well maybe, though many would argue that the Front National today is a xenophobic, ultra-nationalist party, rather than fascist. It does not currently, organise armed militias on the streets to go to break up meetings of workers organisations, for example. Nor is it currently in any position to challenge the existing bourgeois state, so as to be able to fuse its own organisations with those of the state, in the way Mussolini did in Italy in the 1920's, and Hitler did in Germany in the 1930's. But, even were that the case, the answer to Mussolini's and Hitler's fascists in the 1920's and 1930's did not reside in voting for other right-wing politicians as a lesser-evil. It resided in actively building workers organisations to fight those fascists on the streets, and to be able to put forward workers candidates in elections, around which the working-class could mobilise.

Its true, that Marxists do not make the mistake that the Stalinists made in the 1930's, during the Third Period, of saying to workers that there is no difference between bourgeois-democracy and fascist totalitarianism. There is, of course, a world of difference, and we would always defend bourgeois-democracy, despite all of its limitations, as against fascism, just as we would defend capitalism against a return to some form of feudalism. But, as Trotsky set out in his Action Programme for France, in the 1930's, when it faced the possibility of a descent into fascism, a defence of bourgeois democracy is not a defence of bourgeois democratic parties, or any kind of alliance with such parties – a popular front – or any suggestion to workers that they could put their faith in such bourgeois parties, simply as some kind of “lesser-evil”.  In such circumstances we fight to defend bourgeois democracy by our own proletarian means, and as part of a process of arguing the need to move beyond the limitations of bourgeois democracy.

The means of defeating fascist paramilitaries is not voting, but the organisation of our own workers defence squads, and workers militia.  The means of defeating the totalitarians hollowing out of parliamentary democracy, is to build our own organs of workers democracy, of factory committees, peasants committees, and workers committees in each community and neighbourhood, standing alongside and controlling the defence squads and the militia.

When it comes to it, if it is ever a choice between a class conscious proletariat asserting its own class interests, or fascism, the bourgeois-democratic parties, including the social-democracy, will always choose the fascists. We call on workers to support the existing social-democratic parties, only as a necessary step in their own ideological and organisational development, just as we call on them to join and take an active part in their trades unions, despite those trades unions, themselves being necessarily bourgeois in their outlook, because they function only to bargain within the existing capitalist system, rather than looking to break out of it, and declare their commitment to an end of the wages system.

Emmanuel Macron, like Tony Blair, is an indication of the collapse of the political centre, and totemic of the political trend that conservative social-democracy represents. Blair, like Macron is essentially an individual politician, stuck in the fantasy of the past, separated from reality, and from the party and political forces he once symbolised. Both are career politicians whose first concern is to defend their own political career, and the political career of those like them. So Blair, today, calls on people to vote not on the basis of party, but on the basis of a cross-party, cross-class programme of opposing Brexit. That call to vote for other parties other than Labour has got left-wing members of the Labour Party expelled, but Blair gets away with it.  Both Blair and Macron represent the logical extension of the politics they represent of continually trying to locate and position themselves upon some abstractly defined centre ground.  Both have ended up triangulating themselves to a singularity, and have thereby disappeared up their own arsehole.

Blair represents nothing of substance, and the same is true of Macron, again a politician now without a party, and so effectively a political aunt sally, waiting to be knocked over by any political force that come along that actually does have some substance behind it. Macron will, rather like Trump, in the US, go into the Presidency, with no party to support him, no members of the National Assembly to give effect to his programme. He will, from day one, be a captive of the political system, and thereby nothing more than a figurehead. Considered negatively, the inevitable failure of Macron to bring about any meaningful positive change for French workers, will simply sow even deeper disillusion in the minds of French workers driving them in even larger numbers into the willing arms of Marine Le Pen, and the National Front, and possibly a National Front, further emboldened, to move even more decisively to the right.  Macron is only a continuation of the failed policies of Hollande, that led to the rise of Le Pen, just as the failed policies of Blair led to the election of Cameron and now May, and the failed policies of Obama led to the election of Trump.

The answer to that, as with the increasing mobilisation of workers in the US against Trump, is not a collapse into lesser-evilism, but an active rejection of such passivity. French socialists should use the next two weeks to actively campaign for an abstention, setting out the reasons above as to why neither Macron nor Le Pen, offer them any real solution, and why the only solution is to get on with the task of their own self-organisation, and the building and rebuilding of their organisations to defend their interests, whoever becomes President, and from there to build and ideological rearm the workers party, so as to be able, at future elections, to have a real choice of candidates.

That is why I argued that it was necessary to support the Socialist Party, and Hamon, not on the basis of giving any credence to the ideology of the Socialists or even of Hamon, who like Corbyn, represents only a return to the kind of progressive social-democracy of the period from WWII to the mid-1970's, but on the basis of the need to rebuild and rearm the workers organisations. As I wrote some days ago, Melenchon, represents no real alternative to Le Pen either, because the programme of both is based on national-socialism. The support for Melenchon is itself simply a form of left populism, as a mirror image of the right populism of Brexit, or of Trump. It is in large part an unthinking populism that simply sets itself up against the status quo, without thinking out clearly what it is for. It is similar to the Stalinoid trends that appeared within the formation of Syriza in Greece, and in Die Linke in Germany, but precisely because it is based on this national-socialism, it offers only a dead end for workers.

Had Melenchon got through to the second round, I could conceivably have been persuaded to call for support for him, but only on condition that it reflected a real movement and realignment of the French Left, and of a decisive shift of the French working class away from the Socialist Party, much as happened with the creation of Syriza in Greece, after the collapse of PASOK, and as has happened with the PSOE in Spain, and the creation of Podemos. But, he didn't, and in the meantime the national-socialist nature of his programme is reactionary. If a realignment of the left is to happen in France, we should at least attempt to bring it about on more principled grounds, and do whatever we can to cut out the cancer of Stalinism and nationalism from within our movement.

French socialists should organise an active abstention in the second round of voting, and undertake that campaign in the next two weeks. Don't vote, organise. The mobilisation should focus on the need to rebuild and rearm the French workers movement and workers' party. The French should take heart from the way Corbyn was elected as leader of the Labour Party, and the massive upsurge in membership that has happened in its aftermath. But, the problems of workers, be they in France or in Britain cannot be solved within national boundaries, the basis of rebuilding and rearming our organisations must be a rejection of nationalism, and adoption of international socialism, founded at least in its first instance, in the building of EU wide workers organisations, and workers parties, for a programme based on the interests of all workers across the EU, and a fight for a Workers Europe.

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