Lutte Ouvriere

Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Mon Mar 11 18:03:37 MST 2002

My friend Liam O'R's attack on Lutte Luvriere, except to say that it is
internally inconsistent (on the one hand he says they ban members from
having children, then tells us that five of their national leadership have
children; he says they're a cult and yet then says they have a secret
leader - since when have cult leaders remained secret!), highly unlikely
(eg is he seriously suggesting that Arlette Laguiller, who is 61 this year
not exactly Madonna, posed for 'Playboy' recently?), and intemperate,
sectarian and destructive.

Liam, if you want to disagree with LO's politics, fine; I disagree with
some of them too.  But leave out the other charges, unless you have some
real evidence.  After all, when poeple like me say the barnesites are a
cult, we can point to a string of pieces of evidence.  And, of course, in
the case of real cults - whether built around Stalin, Healy, Barnes,
Posadas, Guzman or the guy than ran the Children of God - the leaders are
not only known, their rise to god-like status is publicly apparent.  You
don't really have secret leaders of cults!  It rather defeats the purpose
of being a cult leader and having a cult.

Now, to some comments on Alternative and Louis' comments.

>>The LCR will accept anyone and everyone into membership, including
>groups that will join as a faction with the declared objective of
>fighting specific programmatic and methodological "faults" of the LCR
>existent leadership.
>The LCR is plagued with numerous factions and many times its
>leadership cannot reach majority decisions because of this.  LO is
>allergic to internal factions and tendencies, even though it was
>forced to accept the existence of one such tendency in the past few
>years that publish its position in LO's magazine on a regular

>Gosh, it sounds like Coke is better than Pepsi, even though it ain't
>perfect. Maybe if you get allergic to "factions and tendencies", you
>too can get 9 percent of the citizenry to back your candidate.
>I want to suggest that if your only choice is between these two
>products, maybe you should stick to water. Put as succinctly as
>possible, the strength of the LO is its weakness. By recruiting
>people to a fully-elaborated program, and by seeking out people
>fairly new to revolutionary politics--who by definition would be the
>only ones open to the idea of submitting themselves to a long
>training program--, you are eliminating the possibility of ever
>becoming a mass revolutionary party.

The impression I get is that LO doesn't especially seek out people new to
politics.  The main reason they are at 9 percent in the polls is because
they have sharply cut into the old CP industrial base.

The rigorous training of militants that LO appears to engage in  seems to
me to be a welcome development.  The Bolsheviks did this in their formative
years and it is unlikely they would have got to where they did in 1917
without it.  Indeed, the struggle for a serious revolutionary organisation
was one Lenin waged against the Mensheviks (and, to a certain extent,
against trotsky) for many years.

More significant, it seems to me, is whether LO can open up sufficiently to
turn this mass base of support into a massively expanded organisation.  In
the end, they have to be able to recruit ordinary workers, including people
with families and lives that are partly lived outside the organisation.
This will be the real test, but I don't think being able to do this is
incompatible with rigorous selection of membership.

If we look at movements like the FSLN during the struggle against Somoza,
there was a rigorous selection of membership there.  A massive amount of
commitment was involved.

Due to France (like the USA and NZ) not being a Third World dictatorship,
we have it relatively easy.  This means it is also easy to forget that
revolution is not a game of cricket, but really does require serious
organisations of committed militants.

>All mass revolutionary parties have found a way to unite the natural
>leadership of the mass movement, and which has a commitment to
>Marxism broadly defined, into a nation-wide combat party. You don't
>"recruit" people to such an organization. They themselves form it
>during the heat of battle, just as took place in Russia in Lenin's

Although I generally agree with your analysis of the Bolshevik Party and
the difference between it and the toy-Bolshevik sects of today, I'm not so
sure about the point above.  The Bolsheviks were formed by a handful of
intellectuals and a few industrial workers, not by the leaders of the mass
movement.  Lenin himself never led any mass movements.  Isn't the key being
able to win over a chunk of the mass movement while at the same time
maintaining fairly vigorous membership norms and educational standards.
Most of the left groups fall down because they do one but not the other -
some groups win over sections of mass movement activists but tone down
their Marxism and overall standards so much that they become a swamp;
others maintain such rigorous standards/barriers that they can't recruit
anyone other than a few individuals in their own image.

>Such a party is characterized by the fiercely independent thinking of
>the leading cadre. When you stop to consider the Bolshevik
>leadership, you are struck by how each developed his own particular
>way of understanding Russian reality and relating to it. Bukharin was
>Bukharin. Preobrezhensky was Preobrezhensky. Kamenev was Kamenev. And
>so on. Each came to Marxism through the broad political milieu of
>social democracy internationally. Each had become leaders of the mass
>movement through personal sacrifice and innate intelligence. You can
>not "train" such leaders. They have to emerge through struggle.

Isn't there more of a dialectic involved here, where both struggle and
party training inter-relate?  You can't create mass leaders within a left
group - this is why Barnes can run a cult but has never addressed a
workers' meeting in his life and has no feel for real working class
politics.  But equally, leaders who are merely created through mass
struggle are not sufficient either - Lech Walesa would be a classic case
here.  You actuially need the mass experience plus the training of a
disciplined organisation.  Moreover if the training is creative enough, it
should make it easier for a person to partipate in the mass movement and to
develop as a mass leader.

>Our challenge is to build mass parties that are composed of leaders
>and rank-and-filers who have been tested in the combat of the class

Isn't this one of the strengths of Lutte Ouvriere?  Arlette Laguiller was
not built up by them out of nothing - she was a leader of a substantial
struggle, or series of struggles, mainly by low-paid women workers, in the
1970s.  People respect her because she was a class struggle leader.  Cults
tend not to produce such people because their very existence is a threat to
the cult leader.  For instance, I don't think anyone on this list can
imagine a Barnesite member leading a big organising drive in garment and
becoming a respected mass class struggle leader.  Barnes would never allow
such a development.  Same with Healy - the closest the Healyites produced
to a real workers' leader was Alan Thornett and Healy drummed him out
pretty quickly and tried to destroy him.

>You can not build such parties by recruiting in the ones
>and twos. When I look around me in American society, I see the future
>leaders of a revolutionary party: Juan Gonzalez who led the Pacifica
>struggle, his co-leader Amy Goodman, leaders and members of the Black
>Radical Congress, trade union militants who have gained the respect
>of their locals, young anti-globalization organizers with a mass
>action perspective, etc. As the crisis of American capitalism
>deepens, we must find a way to create a national organization that
>can include all of the battle-tested, conscious Marxist leaders who
>have earned the respect of the working class and its allies. Anything
>else is an illusion.

Agreed.  But such an organisation surely would still need to have rigorous
Marxist education, membership standards, etc.  Otherwise, even with a layer
of people with experience of such struggles, you end up like Solidarity.

The impressive thing about LO to me is how it has managed to build a solid
base within the working class and this is reflected in the respect which LO
cadre enjoy among a broad section of the French working class.  They don't
just 'visit' picket lines to try to sell overpriced publications; they
*are* part of the working class on the picket lines.

Philip Ferguson

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