Lutte Ouvriere itself, Laguiller’s organisation, is probably in real terms the strongest avowedly-Trotskyist organisation in the world, thanks to a solid and stable routine. They run 400 regular workplace bulletins. On a series of international questions, from Europe to Afghanistan, they and we have shared views differing from almost all the other would-be Trotskyist groups in the world.
However, they tend to reduce politics to bread-and-butter industrial militancy plus socialist propaganda. They have little interest in, for example, specific mobilisation against France’s large fascist movement, Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front. Since the early 1980s they have refused any sort of critical support to the big parties based on the working class, the CP and SP, against the right wing, instead denouncing the official “left” as no different from the right.
LO’s sectarian limits are, paradoxically, very closely linked with its strengths, both coming from a political culture which is, thanks to a curious history, quite different from any other modern Trotskyist group. In that culture, all decisive political questions are translated into moral questions, and also into questions of social class.
In debate on the Stalinist states, for example — where they had the curious view that the old USSR was a “degenerated workers’ state”, while China, Eastern Europe, etc. were all “bourgeois”, despite (so they freely admitted) a similar social and economic structure — their backstop argument would always be: “It’s a moral choice”. To describe the USSR as a degenerated workers’ state was a choice for loyalty to the 1917 workers’ revolution; to describe China, Eastern Europe, etc. as bourgeois was a choice for loyalty to the workers oppressed by the Stalinist takeovers there. Other views were morally weak and — what was, in this framework, saying the same thing in different words — petty-bourgeois.
This is a terribly limited and limiting culture — ultimately, I think, crippling. Nevertheless, the possible one and a half million votes on 23 April will not be for LO’s sectarian limits, but for the general working-class revolutionary ideas which its campaign has managed to popularise. They will signal a revival of working-class radicalism which can be the basis for a revival of the French revolutionary left.