Click below to link to an "American Left History" entry on the subject of this writer's mea culpa on running for the executive offices of the bourgeois state.
Will this political blushing I am forced to undergo for my old position on this issue of running for the executive offices of the bourgeois state at any level never end? (See above linked post.) Of course, as pointed out in the article below, the local executive offices of the bourgeois state (in alleged contrast to the national state) is a key "hotbed" for sliding from revolution to reformism on this question.
Workers Vanguard No. 960
4 June 2010
Lutte Ouvrière’s Municipal Antics
The following article is translated from Le Bolchévik No. 192 (June 2010).
In 2007, [the reformist group] Lutte Ouvrière (LO) mobilized its members for the following year’s municipal elections, insisting on the importance of getting some municipal representatives. At the end of 2007, by a majority of 97 percent, LO’s party congress adopted a resolution stating:
“Getting some municipal councillors elected is extremely important for our political influence. These elected officials are a means of rooting ourselves in a city and the axis that our local activities can orbit around….
“The conclusion is that we should try to field slates in the maximum number of localities. However, that will not stop us from examining and being open to all proposals for alliances, which we will consider depending on the situation, the local relationship of forces and the possibilities for getting elected that these alliances could really open up to us. Indeed, we have no interest in making alliances on a program of agreements with possible allies if that does not get us some people elected, or even prevents us from getting people elected, and all the more so since we have the means to run independently.”
—Lutte de Classe No. 109, December 2007
In other words, LO was ready for any dirty deal to obtain positions on municipal councils and told its members that it was going to try to negotiate for positions on “left” slates. LO went to beg the Socialist Party [SP], which in most cases said flatly no. But the PCF [French Communist Party] often accepted them on its slates, after making sure that LO would be loyal to the future municipal majority. LO eventually ran on the slates of the bourgeois mayor of Belfort, a fiefdom of [bourgeois politician Jean-Pierre] Chevènement, who served as minister of police under [former SP prime minister Lionel] Jospin.
So far, LO has more than proven that it is a reliable partner for a municipal popular front. We don’t know of any instances when LO voted against a budget. LO national spokesman Nathalie Arthaud, a member of the CP-led municipal majority running Vaulx-en-Velin (in the Lyon suburbs), justified voting for the budget “in the name of LO” during the municipal council meeting on 25 March 2009:
“Of course we are going to vote for the budget presented by the municipal majority, because we are in solidarity with the proposed orientations and choices, whether they are expressed in educational policy, support to associations, rates applied to services rendered or general orientation. The municipal majority is concerned about responding to the needs of the population and especially the underprivileged population, and for us that is essential. Beyond some disagreements on details, we share this majority’s basic choices.”
—Minutes of the Vaulx-en-Velin Municipal Council,
25 March 2009
In spite of LO’s concerns that having municipal councillors was “extremely important for our political influence,” the political influence of these municipal councillors did not reach the pages of the weekly Lutte Ouvrière, which has barely breathed a word about their performance: to our knowledge, LO wrote about them briefly three times in the space of two years. That’s why a 19 February article mentioning them takes on a very particular importance for judging their municipal politics.
The article is about Bagnolet—a municipality in the Paris suburbs—which has been controlled by the CP for decades. Bagnolet is also where an LO regional leader, Jean-Pierre Mercier (also a union bureaucrat in the PSA automobile factory at Aulnay), was elected on the slates of CP mayor Marc Everbecq in 2008. The article recounts the forcible eviction, on the mayor’s orders and in the middle of winter, of the tenants of an apartment building occupied in part by African workers. This time LO condemned the racist eviction, contrary to what they did in 2005 in a similar case in the town of Aubervilliers, which was run at the time by the CP (see our article in Le Bolchévik No. 173 [September 2005]). LO solidarizes with the victims of the Bagnolet eviction and denounces the propaganda of the town administration, which, indeed, does not hesitate to use every racist cliché in order to justify its action, calling the victims smugglers, drug dealers and pimps.
A naive reader, taking LO’s recent hypocritical rhetoric about “communism” at face value, might expect LO to denounce all its past capitulations to the PCF mayor and break its pact with the devil of bourgeois municipalism. Absolutely not! On the contrary, LO’s article states:
“A support committee was set up for the evicted people, with the Right to Housing Committee and other organizations. LO’s municipal councillors in the town participated in its creation. And the evictees were quite happy to find members of the municipal majority at their side, able to condemn the dirty tricks, even when they came from City Hall.”
In other words, LO went to the victims of the municipal government, openly declaring itself part of the very municipal council majority that was evicting them! Under these conditions, LO’s support amounted to reassuring the evictees that they really should not infer from this that the administration of capitalism is necessarily racist (whether in the hands of the PCF and LO or not). It is precisely for this kind of thing that LO is useful to the PCF mayors. The message that LO thus helps to get across is that of course you cannot run a town administration without breaking a few eggs, but in the last analysis there is always somebody in the municipal majority who will come and warm your heart (if nothing else) when you are out on the street and it’s snowing.
LO itself accurately described its conception of municipal work as reformist: “By definition, neither municipal work nor trade-union activity can be revolutionary; they are reformist” (Lutte de Classe No. 110, February 2008). LO deliberately confuses two things. One is the question of administering capitalism at the municipal level by taking part in a municipal council majority—and thus taking responsibility for what running capitalism entails, i.e., inevitably, racist discrimination in public housing; “personnel management,” including the mayor’s office laying off city workers; reducing the number of elementary school classes; cutting back childcare; raising local taxes; setting up “neighborhood police” and police stations; etc. The other is winning an election as a revolutionary proletarian opposition in order to denounce administering capitalism.
For Marxists, however, this is a fundamental difference—a difference of principle. More than 150 years ago, Karl Marx insisted that you cannot take hold of the capitalist state—which is an apparatus of oppression made up of armed bodies whose role is to maintain the dictatorship of capital—in order to make it serve the interest of the working class. This is true for the central government, and it is equally true at the lowest level of the state, the municipal level. Thus, the mayor has police powers within his territory; mayors, including PCF mayors, are the direct representatives of the capitalist state at the municipal level.
That is why Lenin always opposed municipalism, notably during the elections to the local (municipal) dumas in April 1917 in Russia. We recommend to our readers the article in the current issue of our international journal Spartacist [English-language edition No. 61, Spring 2009]. The article documents Lenin’s intransigent struggle, even though the Third International itself had come to questionable conclusions on the question of municipalism at its  Second Congress. Denouncing the bourgeoisie’s institutions of local government, the resolution on parliamentarism stipulated that “to counterpose them to the organs of the state is theoretically incorrect. They are in reality organizations similar to the mechanism of the bourgeois state.” However, the resolution wrongly allowed Communist parties to hold municipal executive office.
The bourgeois state must be destroyed by a workers revolution based on new organs of power—workers councils—unconditionally opposed to the bourgeois order at all levels, national, regional and municipal. So it should be evident that the working class cannot reach this understanding if its revolutionary element itself participates in the institutions of bourgeois power, even municipal ones. From this principled opposition to executive offices of the bourgeois state flows the fact that Marxists cannot run for such posts without risking conferring legitimacy upon them in the eyes of the workers. Therefore we refuse on principle to run for executive office, be it the election of the mayor and his deputies by the municipal council or the election of the president of the republic by universal suffrage. We also refuse to seek to be a part of a parliamentary or municipal majority that takes on executive responsibility.
In contrast, for nearly 40 years LO has never failed to run a candidate for president. In 2008, they took a further step by “getting their hands dirty” at the municipal level. In fact, it is the logic of reformism to set about administering capitalism starting at the municipal level. Our perspective, on the other hand, is international socialist revolution. That perspective begins by opposing LO’s bourgeois municipalism and must end with the dictatorship of the proletariat, which will eliminate the organs of bourgeois repression at all levels, including the municipal. Down with executive offices of the capitalist state!