Exclusive Interview with Nathalie Arthaud

PARIS — LJP’s Anne-Sophie Raujol and Marc Goetzmann interview Leader of Lutte Ouvrière Party, Nathalie Arthaud.

LJP: Could you tell us a little more about your party, especially what Lutte Ouvrière stands for?

Nathalie Arthaud: Well, we are a communist, revolutionary party: we are Marxists, Leninists, and Trotskyists.  That means that we, as a party, believe that with both political and economic power, the working class can change our society.  Marx’s theory is at the center of our political campaign.  And we believe that capitalism not only breeds injustice and inequality in the economy, but also reveals its folly.  Its failings.  Our ideal is the future, the future of mankind.

LJP: What do you envisage for your party’s future, and the direction it will take after the presidential elections?  What changes do you want to make within your party?

NA: For us what is most important is to remain militant in the workforce, within the working class: in companies, in factories, and in lower-class neighborhoods.  Our aim is to implement our political agenda, which is one that fights for the short term needs of workers, but also has the bigger goal of challenging the system imposed by the bourgeoisie and the banks.  This right is one we must be able to defend for all workers.  So in this way, we are spreading the word about this party that we are trying to build who redefines politics and who proposes a program based on class.

Nathalie Arthaud at a Lutte Ouvrière Rally in Paris on October 5.
Photo: Anne-Sophie Raujol.

LJP: So this would a campaign that would start on the ground…

NA: In a word, we’d be on the ground and using all of our resources.  More than in institutions, you mean?  We have absolutely no illusions that we can change things within these institutions.  I myself am a conseillère municipale for Vaulx-en-Velin in the Lyon region, I can tell you that a conseiller municipal has no power, but the maire hasn’t got a lot of pull either, just very little.  This happens in only specific frameworks, very limited, and in reality the government’s ability to act makes misery for everyone, and they are incapable of stopping the damage from crisis, of ridding the poorer neighborhoods of inequality and hardship.  Lutte Ouvrière does not want to take part in these institutions and try to influence them because we know that it wouldn’t accomplish anything: I said over and over during the presidential campaign that even the President himself doesn’t have the power to change the situation really; he can try to bring together all the pieces, but that only goes so far.  The true power is slipping through his fingers and I believe that we see it now and especially with the current issues concerning all the companies that are closing or are about to close.

LJP: During the presidential campaign you voiced opinions on Nicolas Sarkozy, and during your gathering at Robespierre you didn’t mince words in regards to the presidency of François Hollande. Did you have hopes for this leftist President? Or, in your view, is politics always the same, whether from the Left or Right?

NA: Well I am one of the individuals who spent the whole campaign explaining exactly that: that each candidate presented a platform, but that, in reality, none of these platforms would be implemented—even Hollande’s.  These are platforms prepared by businesses. These are plans from PSA, from Arcelor Mittan, from Petro+ that would finally be implemented and imposed on the whole population. Plans to build and then destroy the economy. So I said it over and over again: all of this is just an electoral circus in which one effectively changes puppets that are on strings—marionettes.

And you know that I didn’t mince my words, including those toward the Left during the campaign.  I explained that if the Left came back to power, that could actually be worse for workers and for the working class.  I didn’t say: “You should vote for the lesser evil.” I never used that expression.  I always said: “It could be worse.”  It’s not because of Hollande’s personality, but things could be worse because the situation can be aggravated.The economic situation can continue to be aggravated, and facing this steamroller today of money and power, no political agenda—even that labeled ‘leftist’—can be a shield or a solution for workers.  I even had strong words: I said that all future governments, even socialist governments, will be governments of “combat” for the bourgeoisie and for the profit of the bourgeoisie, against workers.

From the moment that someone wants to run a society, it’s the bourgeoisie and the capitalists who have the right to do anything under the pretext that it is them who bring in money, and that they alone have the initiative and the will. We are destined to be their servants. This right comes from the Left as well as the Right. So I entered the race, I entered this race, and today one can only take notice and live it. In any event I am not going to take any sense of glory or success [from my campaign], because the reality is that there is more demoralization and resignation today than revolt or aggression.

LJP: And that’s something you would like to see change?  More aggression on the part of the French people? You would like to see a sort of awakening of the people–that for once they would pound their fist on the table and say “Okay, now we’re going to change?”

NA: Yes, that’s it.

LJP: Do you feel discouraged at all?

NA: No, no. I am not discouraged.  Absolutely not. The little score [of the popular vote] that I posted— and it was a little score—for us it’s clear and we analyze it, and we don’t explain it by saying that it was because we missed a month of campaigning or that the media didn’t do their job and that it’s because of them.  No, we explain it because our ideas are ideas of a struggle, of a fight for workers and for our ideas, which run counter to the state of a general spirit that is more and more one of resignation and little morale.  But we were conscious of that [going in].  We were conscious of that before the election. So we weren’t surprised by our results. We were prepared for reality. We were prepared and we had enough detachment and enough knowledge of the workers’ movement to know that the workers’ movement is just that: it’s the story of highs and lows, of periods of aggression and periods of decline, too, of victories and of failures, even of setbacks in workers’ morale for the cause.

Workers have sometimes been through periods of reactionary build-up, and I believe that today we are in a period like that. One can become a militant revolutionary to the point where they believe that the world can be changed and that the economy can be founded on other, more collective and just bases. The principal is to understand what’s going on.  It’s to understand, it’s to be conscious, and it’s to be armed with these convictions and to try to transmit these ideas, to try to build in spite of everything.  So no, we have enough detachment to be conscious that these revolutionaries are destined to be minorities and to be counter-current—even on a global scale—in the circumstances that we live today.

And it’s understood that in these periods that the abilities of these militants to confront and to endure these periods is how we finally measure the solidity of this party. We are conscious that we are engaged in a period that will be difficult, and during which it is necessary that we cling onto and stand by our convictions and ideas, and that we try little by little to make them known and then, brick by brick, build this party that, for us, is indispensable.

Social Issues

LJP: I am going to change the subject. At the social level, do you have something to say about Hollande’s presidency: for example about topics like euthanasia, gay marriage, housing, foreigners’ voting rights, such as you notably addressed in your rally. What do you think about these social measures or reforms that have been proposed?

NA: And that is exactly the difference that I make between the left and the right: it is precisely about the societal plan, about the plan of these reforms of society, as a general rule the left is still a little more progressive than the right. That is the only difference that I make in reality, because concerning economic policy responding to the needs of big business and employers, there is not a difference. But on this ground [social issues], normally there is a little bit. For us, it is not enough to embrace the Socialist cause. By even on this ground, I think they are beloweverything, precisely because these are reforms where they would not have the outcries of Laurence Parisot, or of “The Pigeons.” They would not have this opposition of capital, of the powerful. Whom do they have against them on this ground: reactionaries, bigots—those who cling to religious beliefs but in a superficial and ostentatious way— … They would have the right opposite them, but they would not aggravate businesses. And despite all of the above, they are still very very cowardly, very feeble. Still! Even on gay marriage, it will be marriage and not adoption, it will not be PMA (Assisted Reproductive Technology), no certainly not! Concerning the right to vote, we do not even know if they are going to present this project to Parliament. While I even reminded that this has been going on since 1981: this makes 30 years that the Left is talking about it! All of this is shameful. Even about marijuana we see that they do not want outcries. They are afraid of the Right, they’re afraid of the Right. They are ridiculous.

LJP: Could the internal divisions that the government is currently experiencing explain exactly this timorous side of the reforms?

NA: It is precisely because in the government they are timorous that those who would like at least to carry this social reform feel a little annoyed, and there are excesses here and there. But I think that it is above all because in power their responsibilities paralyze them.

International Affairs

LJP: On an international ground, what do think about the French position either in the international organizations, or in the way it is dealing with current crises, such as the cases of Syria or Mali, or concerning the Euro?

NA: With regard to this issue, we can see that there is absolutely no change, and that the left government politics is as like two peas in a pod with the right-wing one. There is an absolute continuity, a truly absolute one. Despite the speeches claiming the end of the “French-Africa,” which are now a tradition of every French President of the Republic since Valérie Giscard d’Estaing, who was a great friend of one of the worst African dictators. Even on this matter, it is always lofty words. “International Relations,” so you need to talk about cooperation, democracy, equality, liberty and so on… The reality is that it is always the interests of the French bourgeoisie that are still and always present. And it is always that that leads the choices concerning international politics.

LJP: So according to you, François Hollande’s urge to get closer with developing countries such as China or Latin America is just a totally self-serving interest, right?

NA:Totally self-serving, and who will say that one is not interested by China, even the United States is so…

LJP: So it is not a true urge to create links, cultural or whatever…

NA:I do not think so, effectively. You know it is quite impressive to see how this world is opened and connected on the grounds of capital, commodities or economics, and how close it is on when it comes to human matter: how to circulate, how for today’s men and women it is getting harder and harder to move and cross borders. I do not think that it is “getting closer.”

American Issues

LJP: Concerning the American elections: how do you see them? Because this is a system quite different from our own, indeed although we have a traditional opposition between the left and the right wings, there are still various parties that can run for office while in the United Sates it is the Republicans against the Democrats. How do you see the current campaign?

NA: Well I see this system as an effectively well-established one that makes people believe they can decide and have the choice since there is this possibility of an alternation. But in reality this is just to maintain a situation, a social order where workers and popular classes will be fatally sustained and be dependent. According to me, the Republican and the Democratic parties are alike; they represent the same continuity. It makes me laugh when I hear Republicans or small parties accusing Obama of being a “communist,” a “socialist!” Honestly it makes me laugh, because obviously he is not this at all. Even Obama’s famous healthcare reform was very modest…

LJP: However for the American system, this reform was a big one. Do you think there is a revolutionary, or at least insurrectional potential in the United States? Do you think the American people are able to do something like that?

NA: Well it was so! I think about the insurrections during the 30s, and also the movement for civil rights, although it was not on a working class ground. But during the 30s when they were facing the crisis, a brutal impoverishment and explosive unemployment rates, the reactions in some towns were impressive. I am thinking about the truckers’ strike, but there were some strike in the mines too, extremely combative, which lasted a long time!

I think that American workers like everyone else, are able to fight, and I think that every battles are very hard and that in order to win them and carry them out, one needs to be organized. And the fact is that in the United States it is not the case at all. Trade unions are very far from being the representatives of the workers’ interests. I believe that the American trade unionism is rotten by corporatism and that this last point is a deadlock for workers. It is sure that these are obstacles American workers will have to overcome in a fight. But it is not impossible: there are important strikes, which sometimes last for months, and it is quite impressive when we see it from France… I think I already told you that we are in a climate of resignation. When you see people being kicked out in some cities, then you can feel the anger comes, the desperate anger.

LJP: Do you have some contacts with movement over there: do you have exchanges, conferences? 

NA: Yes we have, especially with The SPARK, which is a small group militating in the United States for the working class, and with whom we exchange. They are particularly present at Ford in Dearborn, close to Detroit, the historic city of Ford factories. So we have some contacts with these militants.


LJP: Bringing up education seems appropriate, considering that you are an Economics Professor. Do you think a simple reform of schools’ schedules would suffice, or is a complete revision of the institution necessary? According to Marx, education is a means to transmit capitalist values. Do you think altering the schooling system could defy this notion?

NA: Nowadays, I think the idea of an education for all, without inequalities, is still idealistic. I am speaking not only on behalf of France, but on a global level. Recently in Le Monde, a study published by a certain organization revealed that schooling has been stagnating and stalling globally. To me, education represents the limits of an upper class, capitalist society. This society runs on the principle of ready-made systems—pre-fabricated structures dictating the rules of work and services.

Education should mean so much more than this. Within the context of schooling, past generations should transmit their knowledge and past experiences. This knowledge, applicable to the workplace, would infinitely benefit individuals in their development of critical thinking. That is the education I strive for. We are far from my goal: school is seen solely as a gateway to a job. Society distills the meaning of studying to finding work, as if work was the essence of life.

To respond to the question on reforming schools’ schedules, I do think that Vincent Peillon’s proposal would improve education. However, without substantial further employment by the Education Nationale, there will be no progress. Granted, we could discuss countless other scheduling scenarios. As it stands, Peillon’s idea of ending school early in the afternoon, and putting community organizations in charge of after school activities poses a great financial barrier. What will the community do to entertain the children, anyway? Even playing basketball would require renting out a gym. I am skeptical as to how these neighborhoods will find the money, and more importantly, I question the extent to which this time spent will be purposeful for the children. I do concede that working more in the morning and having shorter days would be beneficial, but the means to achieve this are inexistent. Indeed, that is the problem nowadays—how to put good ideas into practice, given our shortage in capital. On a similar note, I would like to bring your attention to Hollande’s plans for employment of educators. Supposing his blueprint for education goes as intended, he would create 60,000 jobs, without covering Sarkozy’s loss in employment. In five years, Sarkozy cancelled 80,000 jobs, and I predict Hollande will lose 60,000 teachers. Will Hollande follow through? I can’t tell you that for sure, but what I know is that this past September, there were 13,000 less educators than in 2011, and that in 2013, considering this shortage, the net gain of teachers will be 0. No matter how many jobs open up, the major issue will be recruitment. Mere stabilization will not suffice for high-demand neighborhoods like Pantin and Bagnolet. A gigantic effort is necessary for primary school within populated communities—an effort that should above all manifest itself in recruitment and educator training.

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