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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Parce que le PCF a un avenir

by Henri Malberg

There Is a Future for the French Communist Party

Translated Wednesday 19 December 2007, by Isabelle Métral

In its 26-November issue “l’Humanité” published a debate that took place in Argenteuil near Paris between several of the Party’s national leaders. That incites me to take up my pen in order to challenge some of the viewpoints that were expressed on that occasion .
A debate is currently taking place among French communists concerning the future of their party. Some comrades think that for historical reasons we are simply left with no choice: the past lays too crushing a burden on us and because of this we can make no progress. Consequently, a new party must be founded. That decision would be a signal that we are going through a rebirth. In that new party, there would be space for a communist organization. Since that is some of our party leaders’ opinion, it is only fair that they should formulate it explicitly. But I do not agree that we are left with no other alternatives than either keeping things as they are or taking a leap in the dark. There is a future for our party, for the French Communist Party.

Not that I keep looking in the back-mirror - though it’s well worth casting a glance in it in some cases, as any driver will know. I am not nostalgic. What I am concerned with is today’s struggle and the future of that struggle. I am convinced that in the present circumstances decreeing the end of the communist Party would relieve the ruling classes and the French Socialist Party of one of the idiosyncratic characteristics and assets of French society. So it would be a very serious mistake.

To begin with, you don’t launch a new party as you launch a new washing powder. Who could we found it with? Granted that thousands of socialist activists or Trotskyite militants of the LCR (revolutionary communist league) or Lutte Ouvrière often share our views and struggles, it is clear that they will not renounce their own historical and political organizations. And no wonder. Political organizations in a country like France have struck deep roots. There are also various progressive associations that are willing to work more actively with us, but only a few, not enough to set up a new political force. And on that score I will add that some recent bitter disappointments are still fresh in my mind.

The truth is that the foundation or re-foundation of a revolutionary party around the most progressive forces cannot result from any conference or any mental construction. It must be the outcome of a historical phase, of a deep upheaval that brings up a new deal. We have not come that far yet. Welding together small groups, however inviting they may be, is not enough to set up a new party. As for creating a structure to the left of the Socialist Party, to serve as its goad and pull it to the left, I just cannot imagine any communist militants returning their thanks for the offer.

It is just as true that the signal that we would send off if the proposed event were to take place would not be the birth of a new force but the end of the French Communist Party. That is what the whole country would feel; that is the news that would hit the headlines of the media and TV channels. The country’s ruling circles, even on the left, have long had that ambition: to kill the Communist Party. For this party has stood in their way ever since 1920. Its influence still seriously hampers the re-shaping of the political scene along the lines of the two-party system. If we embarked on that process, we would be paralyzed for a long time. It is not difficult to imagine the endless succession of conferences and conventions of all kinds, of public negotiations and private talks, the jockeying for positions...we’ve seen that before.

What we went through in the unitary collectives set up in the autumn of 2006 prior to the 2007 presidential campaign is a sweet romance compared to what we would come up against. The upshot of it all would be a terrible waste of intelligence and loss of accumulated experience. And once the curtain has fallen, it takes generations to re-build a force like the communist party. Just think of Italy. History does not serve up the same dish twice.

We can do better, even if it is really, really difficult. First each of us (I am thinking of our closest allies and friends) had better work along their own lines. The Communist Party itself must clarify its own analysis, its own political project and strategy: no small task, this. This must be done with all those that are interested, on condition that there is mutual respect. The demand for this is real enough, as are the political and conceptual needs.

Is that all there is to it, then: just the Communist Party plus a few allies? Certainly not. The French Communist Party cannot set itself the aim of gathering within itself or around itself all those that militate for social change. The lessons we must take from the past, including the darkest, communist phase, are that we must resist the temptation to force everyone into the same mould. Union and unity, and all the alliances that pave the way forward are central to our strategy. Our aim is to build a massive grassroots movement, a front, or joined forces on several fronts, in favour of deep changes. Without deviating from our final aim: a new society.

Consequently, it is necessary to be present wherever things can be done, including at the level of government, on condition that we never forget why we are there, and who we are fighting for. As we did, not so very long ago. And there’s the rub: when we join forces with others, we just cannot be true to ourselves, autonomous, critical as we are by ourselves in the outposts. And then of course the privileges of power may go to anyone’s head. One can never be too wary on that score. But as concerns unity, it will be noted that it is not just a function of the extant political forces. 90% of all French people have employee status. Except for the class of senior executives that are an integral part of the system, the interests of the vast majority converge. Blue or white-collar workers, engineers, junior executives, not forgetting quite a few sub-contractors or bosses in industry, all are crushed by the same pitiless enemy: capital, in its invisible species. Which is the worst. We should denounce the system that leads human societies to their ruin more systematically. The unity of manual and intellectual workers is therefore a historical objective. Not just the concern of trade unions alone. That is a great historical issue, and in that respect we are not good enough. The 1936 Popular Front and the Resistance were not political fronts only, but powerful, massive movements that involved the whole people and society, with social and humanistic objectives, and followed upon the long struggle in which the PCF had had a major part.

That being said, a lot remains to be done, namely: to build and re-build. No one can be content with keeping alive a party that is too weak to make its influence felt on the major issues that shape the country’s destiny. Weak as the party is, it is not moribund. I deny the claim that it is suffering from an irreversible decline. But it would if its members so decided after thoroughly examining the question. But that is not the case. The situation and the human forces are such that we can refresh and revive a revolutionary, progressive, popular, intelligent party, with lots of young militants and women, where it is nice to militate. A party proud of its past and present struggles. And clear about its history. For a minimum of self-love is necessary to win the love of others. As I see it, all this is far more a matter of political orientation than a matter of organization. And I hope that we are going to put in a lot of work in that direction without delay: to analyse today’s capitalism and society, to build a project and a political strategy, to decide what must be the role the Communist Party, and its strategy to promote unity. And on many hot issues, like the basic contradictions of capitalism today, or again how environmental choices affect our conception of society.

Let me add that in times like these, when destiny hangs in the balance, much depends on the political energy and courage of both militants and leaders. And that is what we have no lack of. In short, in many respects, I am far from sharing some of the views expressed by my comrades in “l’Humanité’s” 26-November issue. And it is important to explain why at a time when such crucial choices are to be made.

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