During the autumn 2010 mass protests against French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s attack on pensions, many of the more class-conscious workers favored the idea of escalating the struggle into a general strike to force the government to withdraw its “reform.” In such situations, the job of revolutionaries is to propose how the sabotage of the class-collaborationist union leaders can be overcome—in this case through strike committees elected in workplace general assemblies and linked by delegated coordinations interprofessionnelles at the local, regional and national levels.
The Ligue trotskyste de France (LTF—French affiliate of the International Communist League [ICL] headed by the Spartacist League/U.S.), however, refused to call for a general strike. In its propaganda the ICL noted that the isolated “days of action,” initiated by the labor bureaucrats, “were largely staggered according to the rhythm of the parliamentary debate on the pension ‘reform’ bill...with the aim of wringing some concessions on the wording of the law” (Workers Vanguard, 5 November 2010, translated in Le Bolchévik, December 2010):
“In the face of Sarkozy’s determined attack on pensions, many militant workers clearly understood that isolated ‘days of action’ were not sufficient. Small locally based and generally brief initiatives mushroomed, including by rail workers, like an anarchic ferment lacking a plan. However, unlike December 1995, when rail and transit workers were in the vanguard of the struggle that effectively spelled the end of the right-wing government of Jacques Chirac/Alain Juppé by shutting down public transportation for over three weeks, the situation today is far more difficult for railroad workers.”
It is true that many militants who knew that the “isolated ‘days of action’ were not sufficient” were “lacking a plan,” or at least a sufficiently concrete one, for connecting up and spreading the local pockets of “anarchic ferment.” The task of revolutionaries was precisely to sketch out how to do this, i.e., how to go about organizing a general strike from the bottom up. The LTF called for “real strikes to shut down production” (Le Bolchévik, September 2010), but failed to provide any hints about how such labor actions could be initiated, coordinated or defended.
The ICL’s opposition to calling for a general strike is long-standing. Their position is that such a call should not be advanced prior to the establishment of a hegemonic, mass revolutionary party capable of seizing power (see “In Defense of Tactics,” 1917 No.20, 1998). But this gets things backward:
“The masses want a general strike. The bureaucrats are afraid to initiate one. In this circumstance, the call for a general strike can both expose the bureaucrats’ cowardice and demonstrate to militant workers (who may even be anti-communist) that, at least on this one question, the communists are right against their existing leaders. This is the only way that revolutionaries can begin the struggle to ‘politically defeat and replace’ the misleaders.”
—“Resistance & Betrayal,” 1917 No.19, 1997
While criticizing the union leadership, the LTF’s position, in practice, was no better than that of Lutte ouvrière and other leftists who tailed the bureaucrats. The LTF claimed that “In our interventions in the recent strike movement, as in all our work, the Ligue Trotskyste de France, section of the International Communist League, has sought to reassert the revolutionary program of Bolshevism and the liberating ideals of communism” (Workers Vanguard, 5 November 2010). In fact, the LTF/ICL offered only self-promotion and timeless abstractions. Those who really seek to represent the “revolutionary program of Bolshevism” have a duty to outline the steps necessary for the workers to win.