1928 – 2009 • France
Communist •Trotskyist • Lutte Ouvrière
Son of a Spanish migrant Robert Barcia was a leader of a Trotskyist sect that eventually became Lutte Ouvrière.
Barcia was born in a Paris working-class family, with a leftist Spanish father. At the age of fourteen he joined the Communist Youth in April 1943 when Paris was under the German Occupation.
In September 1943 he was jailed by the French police in the Santé prison for possession of illegal leaflets. In the five months he spent in jail before being released because he was still under 16, he developed his political education copying out the Communist Manifesto by hand .
The parents of one of his fellow prisoners put him in touch when he got out with the Communist Group, the dozen or so Trotskyists led by David Korner (Barta). Korner had refused to unite with the other small French Trotskyist groups because he believed they had made concessions to nationalism.
In September 1944 a comrade from Barta’s group, Mathieu Bucholz, was murdered by Communist Party members to stop him influencing other young communists. This murder made a deep impression on Barcia, who then joined Barta’s group and adopted the pseudonym Hardy.
Between spells in a sanatorium for his tuberculosis, in April 1947 Barcia and other Union Communiste (Trotkyste) members actively supported their comrade, Pierre Bois, [1922-2002] who led the 1947 strike at Renault Billancourt (577 Avenue du Général Leclerc, 92100 Boulogne-Billancourt) that forced the withdrawal of Communist ministers from the government.
The Union Communiste split in November 1949 and disappeared in the early 1950s, but Hardy and Bois kept in contact, despite Hardy spending the whole year 1952 in the Rue Quatrefages tuberculosis clinic.
In 1956 Hardy relaunched the group with the name Union Communiste Internationaliste. The Hungarian insurrection and its repression would, it believed, allow Trotskyism to win many active Communists. Their strategy was to produce regular factory bulletins. This was effectively their only activity, and unlike other Trotskyists they played little role in supporting Algerian independence. In 1962 they launched the paper Voix ouvrière (workers’ voice).
Hardy led the group for nearly 50 years, though he never appeared in public and never wrote under his own name. To earn his living he ran a company which trained commercial travellers to sell drugs to doctors.
Voix ouvrière was banned by the government in June 1968, but within a fortnight Hardy and other comrades launched a new weekly paper called Lutte ouvrière (LO – workers’ struggle). It was the first left paper to reappear after the dissolution of virtually all the left sects.
In the aftermath of 1968 LO grew rapidly and raised its public profile considerably. From 1971 it held an annual fête during the Whitsun holidays in the outskirts of Paris – a three-day open-air festival with stalls, political discussion and entertainment. And fit began to contest elections. In particular Arlette Laguiller [b 1940] was a candidate for the presidency on six occasions.
Laguiller, a bank worker who had led a strike and occupation at the Crédit Lyonnais headquarters in 1968, was the first woman to run for the presidency, standing in 1974. Her best result was in 2002 with 1,630,000 votes (5.72% of the total). In 1999 she was elected a member of the European Parliament. By the 1990s LO was distributing regular factory bulletins to over half a million workers.
But despite becoming well-known, LO remained a small organisation. It was tightly disciplined and put very high demands on its members, described by one critic as “soldier-monks”. For reasons of “security” all members had pseudonyms, and they were very strongly discouraged from having children.
Barcia died in 2009, but, in keeping with the cult of secrecy that characterised the organisation, news of his death was not made public till fourteen months later.