Lutte Ouvriere leader publishes memoirs

Ben Courtice benj at
Mon Feb 10 05:27:47 MST 2003

Personally I think that the hostile spin from Workers Power in this 
article doesn't add anything useful. But it's interesting nevertheless. 
 From their weekly newswire -- see

Ben Courtice

Workers Power Global, Paris

Lutte Ouvrière (Workers' Struggle) is a French Trotskyist organisation whose spokesperson, Arlette Laguiller, has regularly been a Presidential candidate and has won millions of votes.

LO has enjoyed massive electoral support for a relatively small organisation of around 1000 members - many of whom work in factories. But its internal life, and in particular its real leadership, has carefully hidden from the gaze of the media - and more importantly, from any open contact and interaction with the working class.

Even rank and file members have had no idea of the real identity of their true leaders - Laguiller is primarily the public face of LO, with little real weight within the leadership.

All that has now changed, as LO's founder and cult leader, Robert Barcia, a.k.a. Hardy has finally come out, publishing a book of memoirs, giving an interview to French paper Le Monde and even appearing on prime time TV news.

In and of itself, this is entirely unremarkable. In times of social peace, there is no reason why revolutionary leaders should hide from the working class - Lenin and Trotsky might have used pseudonyms and security measures faced with Tsarist repression, but they were hardly backward about coming forward.

However, this change in LO's behaviour is extraordinary. The security mania of the organisation was used to weed out the "petit-bourgeois" elements among their contacts who were so foolish and unserious as to offer their phone number.   More importantly, it helped hold the organisation together in what, from the outside, looks remarkably like a sect. Members are discouraged from having children, dope-smoking is forbidden (although alcohol and tobacco are accepted) and, for many years, homosexuality was hidden. Discipline and devotion were valued above flexibility and critical thinking.

In other words, LO members were supposed to resemble a middle-class, Stalinist caricature of worker militants.

The change did not come from within - it was forced upon LO from without. First, in 1995 Barcia - who virtually never appears in public - appeared at the funeral of Ernest Mandel, flanked by the LO leadership. A couple of years later anonymous photos appeared in the press at the same time as a journalist published some elementary digging that the state presumably did decades ago. 

The membership of the boards of various front companies asociated with LO, its publications and its buildings were compared, and the structure, names and identities behind LO were revealed. This was only of any real interest to trainspotters and the security services, who could double-check their information.   But what was truly surprising was that Barcia, the undoubted leader of LO, turned out to be the boss of a small pharmaceutical training company. Various real bosses gave shocked soundbites saying that he'd seemed such a nice person - hard to believe that he was Arlette Laguiller's puppetmaster.

Again, this was only noteworthy because it highlighted LO's hypocrisy - in this case the contrast between Hardy's hobnobbing with the bosses and LO's workerism and the pressure and rhetoric wielded against its mainly middle-class contacts.

Press exposure coupled with the growth in public support for far-left candidates meant that LO's semi-clandestinity became increasingly disfunctional and laughable. Hardy - who allegedly feels time's winged chariot drawing near - decided to go public. It seems probable that further waves of organisational glasnost will follow in the coming months.

Hardy's memoirs - due to be published next week - are a series of interviews with a non-political journalist who is nevertheless sympathetic to the far-left. They apparently concentrate on his experience in WW2 (he is 75), and the foundation of the ancestor of LO in the 1950s.

Recent crises in LO, which have included the expulsion of several hundred members and a long-running futile faction fight, are said not to be mentioned. There are limits to openness, it appears.

The truth is that although the rank and file of LO are generally so wooden as to be brittle, the leadership are more flexible. This operates even in the leadership. Laguiller has gone on record several times saying that LO have ever made a mistake - which just makes her look mad to ordinary people.

Hardy is prepared to admit many mistakes, but cites in particular their initial under-estimation of May 1968, which they precisely criticised in the early stage as being a petit-bourgeois student movement.

And of course LO is doing exactly the same today with the anti-globalisation movement. Hardy and his comrades, like the Bourbons, have forgotten nothing and learnt nothing.

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