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Pierre Laurent Congress of the French Communist Party November 23, 2018

Pierre Laurent
Congress of the French Communist Party
November 23, 2018

 

Dear comrades,

Welcome to our, to your congress. I want to thank all of the activists who worked to make it a success, the comrades from the Val-de-Marne, the local elected Communist officials and the President of the Conseil Départemental du Val-de-Marne, Christian Favier; I want to thank the lovely town of Ivry-sur-Seine and mayor Philippe Bouyssou for welcoming us in this town that is so close to our hearts.

We wanted this to be an “extraordinary” Congress.

This is not only because of the proposal I made in June 2017 to the National Council to change the scheduled calendar. “Extraordinary”, because the changes taking place every day in the world and in Europe are just that.

“Extraordinary” because the election of Emmanuel Macron gave a sudden impetus to a political reconfiguration, the dangers of which became apparent to us when the sham of the second round of elections presented us with a candidate from the world of high finance and the leader of the National Front.

“Extraordinary” because of the bitter frustration felt by Communists after the presidential campaign and its consequences on our candidates in the legislative elections. Although our groups in the National Assembly and the Senate are established and offer us a sizable advantage, that frustration could have compromised our capacity to face the situation offensively had we not decided to fully analyse and clarify the circumstances.

Just one year ago, we set out a road map to reach this goal. A year of work, of consideration, of thematic study, voting and debate without concession. A year of struggle during which we stood up boldly to the attacks of Macon’s power base. And here we stand today, ready to make new choices for the future.

There is no doubt that we are living in “extraordinary” times. Yes, the questions that face the world, society, France, each of us, Communists, are more exceptional than ever.

The planet is burning, the IPCC is sounding the alarm, people are suffering, international capital is growing fatter, the GAFA seek to rule the world, dictate our lives, control our data. Peace is no longer a given, but an urgent need. Racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and exclusion have once again become ordinary.

Trump blows on the red hot coals, panics the world with his provocations, and Macron invites him to the parade on July 14th, then again on November 11th; Macron spoke of Pétain as a “good soldier” to justify a shameful tribute to the collaborationist Marshal, thus sowing confusion among our people with regard to our country’s true history.

Regression and threats to the future of humanity and the planet, the rise of populism and fascism at our doorstep in Europe and across the Atlantic, brutal, organised attacks on popular and democratic expression – we are living in a disturbing, relentless political chaos.

This world of extreme inequalities is no longer bearable to those who labour to keep it going and yet suffer from the glaring injustices as well as inefficiency and increasing wastefulness.

The wealthiest individuals meet in Cannes to discuss the best ways to avoid taxes; meanwhile, the Mediterranean is a cemetery for refugees, the Aquarius adrift amidst the contempt and indifference of French and European authorities.

Around the country, we witness the anger of the so-called Yellow Vest demonstrators (named for the reflective safety vests they wear) against the petrol tax racket, which would eat into the purchasing power of workers who need their automobiles, while, a few thousand kilometres away in Japan, the head of Renault-Nissan was caught red-handed in a massive tax fraud – a man who earns in a single year what an ordinary worker spends a lifetime to acquire.

Diesel, gasoline, and heating fuel prices are ramping up so steeply that people are overwhelmed, and yet the “Macron buses” continue to replace train lines while the national rail system as a public service in under attack. Salaries are blocked in all sectors, pensions are eroded. Stock market profits are skyrocketing and tax breaks for big capital are now the rule. Money reigns and respects nothing – not human beings, not the urgent needs of the planet.

Human dignity is trampled underfoot. From cradle to grave, from school to the hospital ward, no aspect of life is allowed to escape the dictates of finance. Everything is merchandise: work, the human body, moral values, science, culture, sport, justice, and the list goes on.

The capitalist world is about to hit the wall. Never have we so urgently needed another model of production, another model of social development for humanity, a new model of production and consumption that respect environmental and cultural requirements. And never have these requirements been so brutally crushed and repressed by the dominant logic. And as the system forces people down these deadend paths, we see the emergence of authoritarianism, far-right identity politics, hopeless populism. This world is more and more dangerous.

Our society, our country is constantly at a tipping point.

In the balance, millions of people are asking questions, seeking to work and live differently, to invent a new society. The demand for equality and respect for work fuels social struggles; Walks for the Climate are growing in number and size; women demand the right to escape the coercion of patriarchal models and violence; fair and decent housing demands are raised regularly.

We hear the angry cries from Marseille, or the Reunion Islands, against the contempt and indifference of authorities. Initiatives of concrete solidarity are growing: our elected council members in Montreuil requisitioned premises deserted by State services to house migrant workers who had been living in squalid conditions; doctors offer free examinations; restaurant owners offer meals. Workers at Ascova and Arjo-Wiggins have just won a four-year battle and relaunched production on their sites, with a raft of ideas for jump-starting the industry.

The new co-op Mobicoop has started up with a new social and solidarityminded car-share service, an alternative to the big platforms.

Yes, society is seeking a new identity. Actions for solidarity, initiatives, aspirations call for democratic solutions that are the heart of our Communist project.

But how many expressions of popular anger do not join other voices in positive struggles, but echo in aimless radicalisation, sometimes ending in shouting matches with other angry people? We have seen examples at some of the Yellow Vest road blocks, or when management tries to set workers against each other by organising a “referendum” that is little more than blackmail for jobs.

These divisions are nourished by the ineffective policies of our government, while liberal forces, purveyors of the ideology of individualism promoted by Macron, and big management are quite content to stand back and watch them grow.

In his last book, the Franco-Moroccan poet Abdellatif Laâbi wrote: “Today there is no questioning, only exclamation”.

I spoke of a tipping point: all of these observations weigh in on the scale.

But a scale can also operate at equilibrium. We choose to be a force to contribute to righting the scales through our presence at the base; our popular wisdom; our proposals, attitude and acts; our know-how. We can tip the scales to the side of democracy and solidarity, rather than violence and division, which is the load of the far-right.

Liberal policies do not stand up against populist or far-right movements, on the contrary, they feed off each other. To find a way out of the dangerous dilemma in which many of the people of Europe are trapped, we must help build a path for L'humain d'abord – humans first. It is a path for social re-appropriation of the wealth created by human labour, a path towards renewed democracy, re-invented so that each person has the power to make decisions for his or her life, for the country, for the planet.

Everything moves fast today, things are upended, questions take shape in new ways: the state of society, class divisions, the future of the planet, the political landscape, the nature of new forces in play, the left, the conditions for building a new political majority for change in the present situation …

Since the election of Emmanuel Macron, we have been living through this acceleration of political events.

We knew that the policies the President of the Republic would implement would soon extinguish the hopes that had been raised by his campaign. He thinks in function of service to big capital’s interests. His has followed through on this with unprecedented excess. The President of the rich and the premiers de cordée (he likens business leaders to the lead climbers on mountaineering expeditions) dropped all pretence with such arrogance that today he has to back peddle and make noise about changing his methods.

But in truth nothing has changed.

Many of those who thought that Macron might offer a way out of our profound political crisis have given up on him today. In just a few months, we entered into a new phase of political struggle. We take account of what people in our society are seeking, and push this phase forward by defining and expressing our proposals.

But we have not merely witnessed these changes; we have contributed to them.

Along with many others, we mobilised against executive orders and the dismantling of the labour laws; we stood with employees of Alstom, Carrefour, But, and other companies; we were active in our support of railway workers and against the deregulation of public rail service; we visited hospitals and nursing homes around France with our MPs; we were at the heart of the Grigny Appeal for urgent assistance for working class neighbourhoods; we fought against measures that put a stranglehold on municipalities and deny them control; we were part of the Hauts de France assembly for equal treatment among regions; across the country our activists and parliamentarians have taken part in actions that reveal the extent to which Emmanuel Macron and his government practice the politics of the ruling class.

The so-called Benalla affair of last summer also crystallised the rejection of an administration that believes it can do as it pleases, that it is above the people and the democratic control of Parliament. The scandal put a stop to the Macronist offensive to revise the Constitution. Our serment du Jeu de Paume in July, held while Macron was launching his offensive at the Versailles Congress was very useful.

Another problem facing Macron’s administration: the defiance of mayors has reached a peak. This gives us extra leverage to prevent the monarchical revision of the Republic and our institutions, which the president still intends to carry out.

Democratic mobilisation in this area will be one of the major challenges in the coming months as we approach the series of local elections coming up in 2020. The battle begins now. Indeed it is already underway.

Thus, in all of our battles, we are confronted with a political test. How can we transform the growing defiance, anger and exasperation into political changes that will impact the predatory, authoritarian logic of capitalism? We want to open the path to an alternative to Macron’s policies in France; not the pathway of fear, social conflict and division that Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National offers, or the right wing path of Laurent Wauquiez, but a path that leads to a different organisation of human, social and democratic relations.

How can we start down this new path, find our road, find the energy to move forward? These are is the questions we must answer.

In our view Communism is an immense effort of setting democracy in motion, you might say the democratisation of democracy, that should progressively enable women and men, employees and all types of workers, citizens in all aspects of their social and personal life, at work and in society, to be free of all forms of domination and alienation; to invest the seats of power and take control to create new forms of governance and serve the common good.

Who decides how we will work, what our objectives should be, whose interests should be served? Who decides how we should produce, consume, develop society in the cities and throughout the country? How can we achieve personal emancipation while respecting solidarity and the development of all people? And how can we restore “fellowship”, without which society falls into an incoherence of disconnected
lives?

Each of these questions deserves a democratic response; today, those in power exercise an opaque withholding of information that could not be further from our aspirations for transparency in democracy. New forms of democracy and social ownership that are participative, cooperative and deliberative must be brought to play to greatly expand the scope of the people’s powers.

In our view Communism is the movement that provides this emancipation, a movement of democratic victories, a process of sharing human capacities and natural resources according to democratic decisions, developed progressively, in a spirit of fraternity freely consented and open to growth.

In the rumblings of society today, we can hear the “presuppositions” of Karl Marx or the “present futures” identified by Lucien Sève. We seek to offer support by freeing society of all that holds people down, by changing the social relationships of domination.

The Communist Party thus aims to continually extend: the potential for emancipation, for human rights, for shared social, human and environmental progress, in solidarity; feminist freedom; refusal of racism; the controlled sharing of wealth, power and knowledge; the right to peace.

Our strategy is to open this pathway to transformation, a path of constant struggle; the key factor for success is broad, conscious, popular ownership of each step forward.

This is how we view the role of the Communist Party, serving transformative assemblies that are constantly developing and renewed. It is not that we lead the way shining our own bright lantern, but we share that task with citizens and workers who are themselves agents of change; together we light the paths of possible change, with our proposals and analyses; we illuminate the possibilities and the obstacles. The light also comes from the creativity of the population, trade unions, associations and citizens, and we must always look to them for their lights as well.

Our organisation can support and give meaning to multiple struggles, movements and initiatives in various fields, carried out in the interests of the great majority of the population for citizen’s victories, revolutionary reforms and the extension of rights. And our political campaigns help the movement flourish by planting the seeds of new ideas.

Our hearts are committed to unification, that is one of the Communist’s movement’s indelible characteristics. Our effort to unify is ongoing, and includes political forces and all members of society.

It is in this spirit of conquest and openness that we must move towards a new century of Communism in 2020.

We must be a party of movement, of autonomous popular initiatives, a party of popular education and culture, a party of citizens’ achievement that will enable the people to gain positions of power within society, institutions, at the workplace and in the political sphere. A party that places unity and assembly before partisan interests and the egos of individual leaders.

Our organisation must both lead major national campaigns and support the instigation, growth and convergence of a multitude of decentralised political initiatives. It was difficult to imagine this in the past, but today we can reach this goal if we transform our way of life, our rules and our structure; we can rely on activists in the field and the people’s desire to participate, and digital tools that can bring the two together instantly.

Our local structure gives us an essential advantage. It allows Communists to be grounded in realty – at a time when so many seem to ignore it. We are determined to remain grounded and we hope to broaden our local activist networks, in working class neighbourhoods and at the workplace. And we want to give them even more independence, make them seedbeds for future action.

To this end we are creating a permanent open channel of communication among all members, local groups, national and horizontal networks and all those who wish to act or communicate with us.

On 5 November we launched the new party platform L’humain d’abord. The day after the Congress ends, all of the new parts of our communication kit and visual identity will be available.

It is through this overall approach, victory and unity, that we will prepare the upcoming elections. I mentioned the local elections in 2020 and 2021, essential in my opinion, and our Congress must give the starting signal right away.

This is also clearly the case for the European elections to be held on 26 May 2019, the first national election since the presidential contest; we have launched our campaign with our top candidate, Ian Brossat.

It would be unforgivably reckless to leave the destiny of Europe in the hands of the liberals, the nationalists and xenophobes: Macron or Salvini, Macron or Le Pen, that is the trap waiting to be sprung.

The text we will debate over these two days, after many discussions, addresses these challenges clearly: “no” to the destructive logic of treaties, “yes” to the refoundation of a Europe based on solidarity. This is the clear direction we must pursue with the will to force open all possible breaches whenever necessary. We extend a hand to all available forces and shall advance together in step. The 26th of May is soon upon us. This Congress is the starting block for the campaign; all Communists must set off, united and determined!

Dear comrades,

Our Congress has been mobilising the energy and knowledge of tens of thousands of Communists for a year.

It is true that our advancement was sometimes choppy and not always calm.

Many Communists were both interested and concerned, fearing for the unity of our movement, as the debates were sometimes heated, and we used new methods. It is time to put the pieces back together and, with this Congress, to give new meaning to the successive phases in order to have a clearer vision going forward.

We lived through a year of intense work, with our workshops, conferences and conventions on social progress, the digital age, the environment, culture – work that was very productive and sometimes not adequately appreciated.

In September, we voted for the choice of a common base with a strong message on the changes needed to affirm Communist Party ideals and fight to keep our Party from being wiped off the map.

In the past weeks we have experienced the intense work on the text of the Manifeste, adding to and deepening it in order to bring out the new version that you now have before you. I am delighted that many of our innovations, which had temporarily been set aside during the vote on the common base, have been reintroduced in the text. The questions that were subject to the most focussed debate on past results, strategy, Europe, the international situation, the concept of the Party, were elucidated and considerably enhanced. Nothing has been left behind, but all is here, newly structured, for you to form an opinion on during our discussion. Personally, I wish to applaud the Communists, the Party activists who have always sought forward momentum through debate, in a spirit of unity and responsibility. It is an essential assurance for our future.

Lastly, allow me to say a word about the Party leadership, and the change of National Secretary that will be submitted to you by the Commission on Candidates, which has composed a list.

To implement our choice efficiently, to pursue the debates that will call for action in the tumultuous times ahead, we need leadership that will bring us all together; a unified, collective and solid leadership. We will leave this Congress with an amended text that shall be our common mandate. We will need determination to keep it alive, as well as time for debate, creativity and constant assessment. Our leadership, in its diversity, will be essential for facing up to the challenges that await us.

I have spoken with Fabien often in recent weeks, listened to him and advised him. The choice that I suggested to the Commission on Candidates Monday in l’Humanité is something I gave a great deal of thought to, with my constant concern for the future of the Party. Yes, I believe that adding our forces and personalities together will be the right way to unite the Party.

We are going to elect a new National Secretary, Fabien Roussel. Fabien will have all of my support. We do not need a leadership that is always second-guessing, nor do we need sycophants.

We want a leadership that stands for all the Party, with everyone, to be united and inventive in the battles to come.

Personally, I will be fully engaged in my new position as Chairman of the National Council, if it is confirmed as I suggested to Fabien and as he noted in his report from the Commission on Candidates.

I have always said three things in this regard and I have never swayed from these beliefs: 1) what is important to me is the direction we choose; 2) good leadership is collective leadership, especially in the Communist Party; to be sound, leadership needs experience and renewal; 3) the question of the National Secretary is not taboo if we respect the first two points. I have drawn my own conclusions from the debate that seemed to risk dividing us; I had already said that we should quickly prepare for a change of National Secretary within two years.

Renewal is a positive signal that we send out, and corresponds to what we want for our Party. And this signal is even stronger as it is sent from our unified forces, to which I fully intend to contribute.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen from the press, ladies and gentlemen political pundits, we are not a political party like all the others. In our Party, debate is not a battle between contenders, we do not put ego above the general interest. We are unified as the party of the common people, the people who know that when we are divided, we have nothing to gain.

Fabien became an activist in the working class region of the North. My beginnings were in the Belleville district, site of the Paris Commune. We both know the value of workers’ solidarity. Those who think we can be divided are mistaken. You can count on me to see to that.

To conclude, I would like to thank my fellow Communists for all that you have given me in my eight years as the National Secretary, since 2010 when Marie-George Buffet and the leadership conferred this responsibility on me.

Any person who takes on such a responsibility takes it on with his or her own personal convictions.

I worked with a passion for debate, reasoning, the confrontation of ideas, always with respect for others and the desire to hear them out. I am happy that I remained true to myself, in a climate where media pressure would like to squeeze us into a mould, put politics into neat little boxes.

It’s true, I believe more in the dignity of politics than in politics as entertainment, that has been one of my Achilles’ heels. But tomorrow I will be beside Fabien and beside all of you, the sincerity of my commitment, of our commitment, intact. And faced with the cynicism of the powerful, that is a strong point for us. Let us never forget it.

Here we are, dear comrades, may you work well, may your Congress be a success, and may will all find the courage to face the struggles that await us!

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