The SWP and some of its allies in the mobilisations for the European Social Forum and elsewhere have taken to portraying the French left as complacent about anti-fascism and anti-racism. This article reminds us of a day 30 years ago when part of that left, militants organised by the French Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (LCR, then the Ligue communiste), fought the police to get at the fascists, and got their organisation banned as a result. Alain Krivine, a leader of the Ligue and now one of their MEPs, was among several imprisoned for a while. This article is by the Ligue's François Duval.
On 28 June 1973, the Council of Ministers decides, at the proposal of the Home Secretary, Raymond Marcellin, to dissolve the Communist League. A false even-handedness that fools no-one, the fascist group New Order is also banned. Several leaders of the League are imprisoned, its headquarters and its bookshop are ransacked by the police.
The occasion for these to say the least astonishing decisions? The violent clashes that, a week previous, had pitted the police against several thousand anti-fascist demonstrators, protesting against the holding of a New Order meeting on the unambiguous theme: "Stop the unchecked immigration!" The clashes had caused several dozen injured among the ranks of the forces of order. The Communist League was the principal organiser of that demonstration with its explicit goal: "fascist meeting, banned meeting!" Holed up in the Mutualité, the fascists were protected by an impressive police operation. An unusual situation: it was the demonstrators, helmeted and armed with Molotov cocktails, who charged the police, forcing them to retreat several times.
It is difficult today to understand these events without placing them in the context of the time. The spirt of May 1968 was still breathing: among school students, in the factories, and in many other social arenas. Tens of thousands of people were struggling for a radical change in society. The eruption of the women's liberation movement was about to shake French society to its core. In Italy, "rampant May" was posing the question of a revolutionary strategy. At our gates, in the Spanish state, in Portugal and in Greece, the workers' movement was conducting a difficult and clandestine struggle against fascistic military dictatorships.
The League then shared with other organisations of the far-left this belief: in western Europe, the rapid development of the social struggles would lead quickly-in the "coming four or five years"-to revolutionary confrontations. To break the social offensive and maintain its power, the bourgeoisie would use all means: repressive measures, use of the army or fascist bands. This last hypothesis was based on real experience: police violence and the use of private militias against strikers, the following and monitoring of political and trade union militants, illegal phone tapping, attacks against immigrants, the assassination of Pierre Overney, a young Maoist worker, by a security guard of the Renault company. Thus, it was necessary to prepare for this.
Discredited by collaboration with the Nazis and support for the dirty colonial wars, the extreme right in France certainly intended to rebuild itself through a racist campaign against immigrants, a strategy which the National Front would later take up again. Hence our desire to avoid complacency towards the fascists and to "destroy them in the egg".
The League continues!
Many, including on the left, expressed their disagreement with our initiative. The most kindly disposed thought the League had fallen prey to a provocation. After having dissolved the Proletarian Left (Gauche proletarienne), an organisation inspired by Maoism, Marcellin, a little hastily, thought he would be able to renew the operation with the League. At first stupefied after the television broadcast of spectacular images of the clashes, public opinion quickly came to again. First the press woke up to the content of the fascist meeting: racist, xenophobic and anti-semitic declarations, death threats. The real scandal therefore was not the protest, even if its forms could not enjoy popular approval, but the holding of such a meeting! The main union of police officers circulated numerous testimonies proving that the police had protected the fascists who with complete impunity were unloading stocks of iron bars and shields. Other testimonies attested that the police hierarchy, although informed about the shape of the demonstration, hadn't warned the units present on the ground about it, leaving them without orders or sufficient equipment. Result: The Nouvel Observateur was able to describe Marcellin as "number one suspect".
The trade union organisations, all the parties and leaders of the left, magistrates as well as numerous artists and intellectuals protested against the banning of the League. Grand première: the Cirque d'hiver hosted a solidarity meeting where, after numerous other speakers, Jacques Duclos, leader of the Communist Party, declared "raise a vigorous protest against the arrest of Alain Krivine and against the banning of the Communist League". A new attitude: the Communist Party had up until then treated the revolutionary militants as "Marcellin-leftists". Nevertheless, the League was barred from speaking in the course of this meeting convened to defend it.
Over the course of the summer, the imprisoned leaders were released. The prosecutions trickled conveniently away in the sands of procedure. Marcellin had missed his stroke and, although banned, the League continued no less to function and to be active around Rouge which had not been banned. Several months later the Revolutionary Communist Front was born. Neither the government nor the law dared invoke the offence of "reconstitution of banned organisation". The final wink, at the end of 1974, the conference of the organisation decided to take the name of Communist League Revolutionary Communist League.
These events fuelled an intense debate in our ranks: had 21 June been a mistake? Worse than doing nothing? Had the League allowed itself to fall into minority violence?
Periodically, this last question returns in various guises: the so-called "insurrectionary temptation" which the League is suspected of, could it have given birth to a terrorist offshoot as was the case with other organisations, in Germany (Baader group) or in Italy (Red Brigades)? This is to forget a little too quickly that the strategic thinking of our current excludes terrorism and that, if the League was a small organisation, its links with the workers' movement, products of a long history, were much closer than those of the groups that tended toward terrorism. It is to forget above all that the action of the Communist League was far from reducible to the "exploits" of its top brass. In the months that preceded 21 June, the League had initiated a movement organising hundreds of thousands of school students against the reform of deferment (Debre Law). It had organised a conference of workers, uniting several hundred sympathisers, proof of the beginnings of an implantation in the working class.
But 21 June certainly marked a break with the period immediately following 1968. A new venture was beginning with Lip, Larzac, the committees of soldiers, the confrontation with the Union of the Left (Union de la gauche). And the construction of an independent revolutionary organisation immersed in the social movement. And always resolutely anti-fascist.
Mutualité, Cirque d'hiver: theatre buildings in Paris
"Lip, Larzac the confrontation with the Union of the Left": Lip was the name of a 'failing' watch factory in Besançon due to close in 1973-the workers occupied it and ran it for years; Larzac is a plain in southern France where during the 1970s local small farmers, joined by lefties and ecologists, staged demonstrations to save the plain from being used for military manoeuvres; the Union of the Left was an electoral alliance of the Socialist Party, Communist Party and the Movement of Left Radicals (Mouvement des Radicaux de Gauche, MRG).
- This article appeared on 26 June 2003 in Rouge, the paper of the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (www.lcr-rouge.org). Translation, notes and comment by Vicki Morris