France’s New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA) is facing a deep crisis. When the NPA was created in 2009, its potential to make a huge breakthrough in the French political landscape was real. On 9 February of that year, the NPA was founded with more than 630 delegates representing 9,123 members organised in 467 local committees. In one week, 1,000 new members joined the party. A whole layer of workers, young people, trade union and community activists enthusiastically welcomed the new project, seeing it as the first decisive possibility to politically re-arm their class, faced with the avalanche of attacks coming from the capitalists and their new cherished political representative, Sarkozy, and its band of right-wingers.
The pro-market policies embraced by the Socialist Party (PS) and the long-standing decay and shift to the right of the old Communist Party (PCF) - both having been graphically displayed through their ‘Plural Left’ government coalition between 1997 and 2002 - had for long posed the objective necessity of building a new party for the French working class. The potential for launching such a party had been expressed on several occasions during the previous decade. In the 2002 presidential election, the LCR candidate Olivier Besancenot received 4.25% of the vote; the candidate of another far left organisation, Arlette Laguiller from ‘Lutte Ouvrière’, received 5.72%. This was unprecedented: two candidates claiming to be Trotskyist getting almost 10% (close to three million votes) in a national electoral contest.
Such results by the left were followed quickly by a powerful movement against the National Front (FN) candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who reached the second round of the elections. This culminated in a one million-strong demonstration against Le Pen and the far right in Paris on May Day 2002. As the CWI commented at the time, this represented an enormous opportunity for the left to initiate an active campaign for a new workers’ party. LO and LCR had been in a favourable position many times over the years to launch a new political formation in which a new layer of workers and youth could develop an independent political base. This was combined with a social climate in which important struggles erupted from below against the neo-liberal offensive of the ruling class. In 2003 there was the movement against pension reform, in 2005 against the EU constitution, in 2006 against the CPE (‘First Job Contract’). All these gave a campaign for a new workers’ party great political meaning.
In the following presidential election in 2007, while the LO’s vote dramatically fell, Besancenot, again the LCR candidate, saw his vote modestly rise to very nearly 1.5 million, 4.08%. Two months later, in June 2007, finally the LCR announced through the voice of Besancenot that it was time to build a new broad party against capitalism, although that was accompanied by the LCR announcing that it would dissolve itself.
The CWI and its French section, Gauche Revolutionnaire (GR), welcomed the important step forward of launching a broad party; they believed it could appeal to the many workers and young people in France who were looking for a real left alternative. The GR also immediately declared its readiness to build the NPA, and actively participated in its structures from the start, trying to put forward proposals for the party’s programme and activities in a constructive manner while, unlike the former LCR, openly retaining its political identity. The GR also pointed out political weaknesses in the new party’s programme, particularly its refusal to argue for a socialist alternative to capitalism and the necessity for this new party to have a clear orientation towards the struggles of the working class. At the same time if a new party was going to develop it needed to have a democratic framework in which the members could play an active role in the debates on the programme and the orientation of the party. In this way, through the experiences of their own struggles and campaigns, workers and young people could draw the necessary lessons and continuously refine the programme of the new party.
Many left activists, in France and internationally, were looking to the NPA as a possible example of a ‘modern’ type of left formation that could make a difference and bring the struggle against capitalist policies to a new level, with wider international repercussions. Since then, however, things have taken a dramatic shift. About three years after the NPA’s founding conference, the party has been reduced to a shadow of itself. Over two thirds of the membership has left the party, many committees are getting emptier almost by the day, and the haemorrhaging is continuing at a steady pace. At a rank-and-file level, the enthusiasm and dynamism of the early stages has been replaced by disillusion and anger. At a leadership level, unprincipled struggles for control over the apparatus have overtaken the importance of genuine political debates.
The sharp decline of the party in the last period has unfortunately borne out some of the dangers that the GR had repeatedly warned against: the successive electoral campaigns have dominated the party’s life and rhythm throughout, there has been a serious lack of internal democracy – with decisions often being taken without internal debate and check-and-control from the membership. Also, the leadership has been incapable of overcoming the political generalities and confusion in the programme and demands. For instance, the NPA failed to formulate a real alternative policy to that of the trade union officialdom and of the ‘institutional left’ during the pensions battle.
However, it still had potential. At one point, an opinion poll showed that in France 60% had a “favourable opinion” of the NPA’s popular spokesperson, Olivier Besancenot and 16% an “excellent opinion” of him. But the decision last April of Besancenot to resign from being the NPA’s main public figure and presidential candidate accelerated the impending crisis of the party, which has reached, in the recent months, a near to breaking point.
The GR joined the NPA as a current aimed at fighting for the building of a mass workers’ party standing for socialism, as the only alternative to the capitalist crisis, and in order to propose such an orientation in the debates. However, this required that substantive discussions on the type of party, programme, tactics and strategy necessary in the present period were conducted openly and fraternally. It also required the laying down of a democratic method of functioning which would include all the activists in the political elaboration of the party’s character. The dominating factions of the party’s leadership have unfortunately embarked in a series of manoeuvres which were putting an increasing number of roadblocks in the way of making such vital democratic debates a reality.
The dangers that could result from the course taken by the dominant layers of the NPA’s leadership were consistently pointed out by the GR. This was the basis of the establishment in 2010 of the ‘platform P2’, an opposition platform co-founded by the GR comrades with others, which was set up to bring together those who were clearly on the left of the party, despite some differences between the people involved in it. By appealing to the rank-and-file members, its aim was to fight against the electoralist preoccupation of the leadership and for putting back the intervention in the class struggles at the heart of the NPA’s project. This platform gained the support of close to 30% in the National Congress of the party in February of last year.
Unfortunately, the period after that Congress saw important elements of the P2 starting to reproduceing a certain number of mistakes against which the P2 had been formed in the first place. The result was that many P2 leaders prioritized the battle inside the leading bodies, and made short-term compromises, at the expense of stimulating a genuine political debate among the party’s activists. Further collaboration was rendered de facto impossible as the internal NPA struggle increasingly turned into a continuation of the internal battles of the former LCR. As the GR explained in a letter addressed to the P2 members, “While the P2 used to be a spur for real, substantive discussions in the party, it has now become itself an actor in the factional clashes that are putting the finishing touches on the transformation of the NPA into a field of ruin”.
Despite our efforts and that of many other genuine activists, many opportunities were missed to rectify the direction in which things were going. The decline and degeneration of the party has now taken a qualitative character; from being sick, the party has entered a terminal phase. From being a possible springboard towards the building of a new workers’ party, the NPA has now mainly become an obstacle in that direction. Today, the three factions that dominate the NPA are the historical factions of the ex-LCR, and the activists who do not come from this background must either adapt or leave. And many have left.
At the time when a climate of politicisation is gaining momentum in France, with the deepening of the economic crisis, the run up to the presidential elections, the class polarisation and the many local industrial battles taking place, the CWI comrades in France believed that the time was ripe to draw a proper balance sheet of the NPA and of our involvement in it. This is what the text below, written by the comrades of the GR, addresses.
The incapacity of the NPA to plainly use its potential has led to a confused situation, in which different forces labeled on the ‘radical left’ are standing for influence. An important part of the success of the ‘Left Front’, brought about by an alliance between the PCF and the ‘Left Party’ (created by the ex-Socialist Party leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon), can be explained through the prism of the failure of the NPA to encapsulate and gather around them those workers and young people who want something new, radical and ‘anti-system’. How far the ‘Left Front’ will develop, and the future relations between the PCF and the ‘Left Party’, are open questions. The PCF leaders are more than ready to join again with the PS in a pro-capitalist government. The situation in France remains marked by the crucial lack of a mass political organization for the workers, the youth, the unemployed, all those who want to fight against the bosses’ offensive, the austerity policies and the growing social misery imposed by this system and its crisis. Even the leftish tone adopted by PS presidential candidate Francois Hollande is a distorted expression of the need for such a party.
In this respect, the failure of the NPA represents an important step back in the perspective of re-organising the French working class with a political programme to lead the fight against the capitalist system. The NPA leadership, in which the historic leaders of the ex-LCR occupy an important place, bears a huge responsibility for this situation. Undoubtedly, they will try to put the blame on the “weakness of the social mobilisations” and justifications of a similar vein.
The CWI, on the other hand, believes that the possibility for a new party for the workers and youth emerging, and developing a mass base, depends on such a party’s ability to address at the right time those workers and youth who are willing to fight. It would also be strongly dependent on a new party’s ability to move the debates forward within it, to transform it into a real political tool that can be seized upon by the workers and young people in their struggles. It is through a consistent intervention in the class struggle, a democratic internal regime, and with a programme which is not afraid of arguing clearly the case for a socialist perspective, that such a party can and should be built.
Is the NPA still a step towards a new fighting party for workers and youth?
The crisis of capitalism, the worst since 1929, continues to wreak havoc and to be used as justification for unprecedented austerity measures against the working class, in France and many other countries. This has led to mass mobilisations (as Greece recently demonstrates) but also to the many problems which we still face today. On the one hand there is anger and bitterness against the system, the politicians who serve it, the banks etc, and on the other hand an inability to take action due to the inertia of the national leaderships of the trade unions and the so-called Left parties.
Workers find themselves without a political instrument to work out a collective strategy and programme for their struggles. The absence of a fighting party for workers and youth leads to several other problems, particularly the lack of an independent voice on a mass scale which could make itself heard in a national political debate which is dominated by parties rooted within capitalism and which have nothing to offer but different forms of austerity. The need for an alternative to capitalism, for the construction of a socialist, democratic society, where the economy would be planned and organised democratically by the workers themselves, in conjunction with the rest of the population, and which could meet everyone’s needs and fulfil every ecological and social criterion, doesn’t come up in political discussions and so is not taken up by the workers.
This is not a new question; ever since the final collapse of Stalinism and the total conversion of the PS to capitalism (without the PC having broken with it) there has been no party to even partially represent the working class and the interests of the oppressed in general. That is why for years now GR (like other sections of its International, the CWI) has argued the need new mass parties of workers and youth, parties which would fight against capitalism and for socialism. That’s why, when the idea of a new party, the NPA, was launched, which would speak to the mass of workers, youth and the downtrodden, we immediately announced that we were in support and that we wanted to help to build it.
We took part in the debates in the various national forums of the NPA, including in the period prior to its formation, took part in debates over documents, wrote many contributions and campaigned actively for the party. For us it was a question of helping and taking part in a first step towards a new mass party against capitalism, a party to organise workers and youth which would encourage a democratic and fraternal discussion on tactics and strategy for the struggle, and how we can offer a truly socialist vision. It seemed to us as a revolutionary tendency that the NPA really could represent this step forward, even if the programme remained somewhat vague. We had no intention of imposing our own programme but only of submitting it to debate.
That’s why we suggested appropriately in-depth discussions whenever the situation demanded it.
The NPA was launched on the basis of the electoral success of the LCR and its candidate O. Besancenot in the presidential elections of 2007, where he came top of the candidates to the left of the PS. Since then he has continued to enjoy considerable popularity, and this has made to NPA even more attractive. The potential was considerable, especially given that the onset of the crisis of capitalism in 2007-08, even if it didn’t automatically force people to get organised, made a firmly anti-capitalist stance all the more necessary. From the onset of the crisis through its different stages, with mass struggles such as Guadeloupe or the fight against redundancies, and more recently, with the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East, or at the time of the Fukushima disaster, the NPA should have offered a framework for collective development. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt recorded their first victories (getting rid of the dictators) and rocked the system to its very foundations when the working class went on strike and entered the field of struggle. The decisive role of the workers enabled the movement initiated by the youth to continue, thus ensuring that the revolutionary process still continues. But the leadership of the NPA has not wanted to use these fantastic events to reaffirm its revolutionary socialist vision based on the collective struggles of the workers together with the youth and the oppressed masses.
At the time of the battles against factory closures in spring 2009, we proposed that the NPA should take the initiative by calling local and regional assemblies for workers, trade unionists and young people to discuss jointly a strategy for fighting back, examining what would be appropriate for different situations. Whilst the national trade union leaderships organised no mass national response, leaving workers to fend for themselves, workplace by workplace, only to be beaten in the end, such assemblies would have made it possible to take certain initiatives, and to make some attempt at national co-ordination. This proposal was neither listened to nor discussed. The best that can be said is that national NPA meetings took place without any objectives and without any clear orientation towards intervening in the struggles, the trade unions etc.
We repeated this proposal at the time of the pensions battle in the autumn of 2010, conscious that the demand for a general strike, which was necessary at that time to defeat the Sarko-Fillon-Woerth plan, is not something which can simply be decreed, or reduced to a simple slogan. We obtained the same result, i.e. nothing. Despite some local initiatives (joint trade union actions, for example) there was no national focus for this struggle, any more than there was to build the NPA into a party capable of presenting an alternative to the false strategy of the trade union leaderships backed up by bodies such as the PS or the Front de Gauche. The NPA did not grow stronger during this struggle since it did not go beyond stating demands without linking the struggle to a serious attempt to bring down Sarkozy and his government. This erroneous approach is not new but is all the more serious in a period of economic crisis.
Instead of recognising that anger has a political cause, and instead of linking our demands to a rejection of the system - in the knowledge that that’s what mobilises the masses - comrades concentrated on a set of demands, as if these demands, once they had reached a certain level, would flow over into a general strike, which in turn would need to mature if it was to become a revolutionary situation. In reality it is the desire, often confused, to put an end to ‘all that’ which leads to mass struggle. The pensions issue was there to bring people together but wasn’t the real basis of the movement, which was: ‘we already have a lousy life, we’re not going to see it get even worse just to make the rich richer’, in other words, we need to change our lives, change the system.
The NPA didn’t offer a clear programme, but remained at a political level below what the struggle demanded, while the voices calling for Sarkozy’s defeat – not restricting themselves to the question of the attack on pensions - increased. In this way the NPA missed an opportunity to come across as the party which enables its rank and file to organise and can develop a strategy which it then offers to millions of workers and young people in struggle. The official line of the NPA was that we needed a ‘sector’ to move and become the driving force, as happened in the strikes of 2003 or ‘95. Not only is it impossible to apply past templates to present struggles, but the 95 strike, which defeated Juppe-Chirac at the time, had been prepared for over weeks of action, general assemblies, especially among the rail workers. In the present period, although many NPA members are very active, the NPA as a party has taken no real initiatives. Yet even today, meetings between workers and young people are essential, in view of the number of strikes which the trade union leaders leave isolated, and how some elements (PS, CFDT leaders, but not only them…) try to reduce everything to the presidential election campaign, in order to justify doing nothing.
On crucial questions such as the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, or the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East, the main priority for the NPA was always to take part in ‘discussions’ without really defending a clear and specific political line, a line which linked these events with the fight for socialism. The party would have had to put this line forward in a transitional manner, linking current aspirations and demands to the fact that they can only be realised by building socialism. If we really want to get rid of dictators, imperialism, or any of the dangers to which the anarchic system of capitalism subjects the environment, the only way is to build a world where the exploitation of man by man has been abolished. Instead of taking the Fukushima catastrophe as an example of the need for a democratically planned economy, the NPA focuses its demands on ‘close nuclear plants within ten years’, which will in no way solve the energy problem if we remain within a capitalist framework. When the crisis began, and the banks were being bailed out and stimulus packages introduced, we proposed that the NPA should adopt the slogan of nationalisation of the financial and banking sector under the control of the workers and the general population, a proposal which was rejected without even being debated. Even if the formulae used today begin to sound a little like that, on this issue, as on many others, the NPA has failed to come across as a party with a clear programme to defend.
Four years after the initial discussions around the NPA, in the light of its subsequent development and current debates, it’s high time to draw up a balance sheet, including of our own participation, and to decide whether this party can still be the first step towards a new workers’ party and whether our participation still makes sense.
What the NPA made possible
The NPA was launched to a great fanfare, not only because of Besancenot’s popularity, but also because it represented a complete break with the traditions of the previous decades, with its direct appeal to workers, to young people, to those who wanted to fight and get rid of capitalism. And so the first activists came from very different backgrounds. Some were from pre-existing organisations, with their own well-established programmes, areas of activity and methods of working, others were from trade unions or community organisations, others were coming into activity for the first time. Meetings of the activists gave plenty of opportunities to swap ideas. The meetings were genuinely successful, proof that the desire for change ran through the whole of the NPA. This allowed comrades to develop different approaches, and explore issues which hadn’t been sufficiently explored previously. In this way activists from workplaces, local communities and youth movements were able to enrich everyone else’s experience, whether a political group or an individual activist, and this was true for Gauche revolutionnaire too. It was hard to get beyond certain habitual formulations but, whenever discussions were fraternal, deep and open enough, it was possible to make progress.
We, for our part, offered our experience, our socialist and internationalist analysis, even though there may have been some misunderstandings (involuntary or otherwise), and we may not always have expressed ourselves clearly. Our concern was always to put forward ideas for discussion, without ignoring the differences which might exist and whatever issues were being debated. Public ownership of the means of production, under the control of the workers and people, democratic planning of the economy respecting all possible considerations regarding the environment, energy consumption, working conditions, public need and available resources – these are not simply slogans but are real objectives which workers and young people can achieve in order to satisfy their aspirations and put an end to this society of oppression and exploitation.
Not one single question, from nuclear power to racism, from sexism to the destruction of the natural environment, from housing to poverty, not one can be solved under capitalism where inequality, alienation and exploitation prevail.
From the very beginning we said that we, as a section of our International, would build the NPA just as others would. This would enable the party to examine the different analyses and experiences of various international tendencies, especially if they were the only tendencies represented in certain parts of the world. It would have allowed us to raise the need for a mass socialist international. Apart from a few debates in the early months no attention was ever given to this question. Internationalism is nothing more than a slogan in the NPA, and many in the party only take an interest in what is happening elsewhere in the world to the extent that it helps the struggle against the imperialist bourgeoisie of France and a few other countries. The significance of many of the international movements has never really been thoroughly discussed.
From the beginning we argued that the NPA should operate on a wide and open front, basing itself on the traditions of the workers’ movement before the advent of Stalinism. The NPA was a young party, and it would take some time to hammer out its programme. We needed a party regime which would allow all tendencies, local or national, to present their ideas, within or outside the party, in whatever form they chose. Inside the party debates should be conducted with the utmost fraternity and also with the greatest openness with regard to ideas. The latter aspect unfortunately suffered from deep-seated suspicions on the part of some comrades towards activists who came from groups other than the LCR, and even against any comrades coming with new ideas.
For our part we stated that we would build the NPA as a current within it, equipped with our journal (Egalite, in which our own analyses and proposals for action, are developed), while maintaining our structures and our methods of developing our own discussions (particularly the discussions within our international), as well as our regular youth bulletins, but at the same time distributing NPA material, especially in the workplaces where we already intervened, or on demos. We reserved the right to produce leaflets on behalf of our tendency if a fundamental difference of approach arose with the NPA. This was the best way, and if all tendencies had adopted this way of working then in the party’s early days everyone’s ideas could have been widely discussed and tested.
Finally we proposed that the internal regime should really attempt to integrate activists who weren’t from a LCR background, and that the structures and commissions of the NPA needed to be reviewed and re-constituted, offering plenty of room for the ‘new arrivals’. This did not happen. Although the LCR had been formally dissolved, all the structures were the same as those of the LCR, with the same working groups and leaders. In the overwhelming majority of cases debates were very limited and mostly ended with often woolly compromise formulae, or, through insufficient discussion, with the old formulations of the LCR.
Reasons for failure
For an anti-capitalist party the crisis of capitalism which began in 2007-2008 opened up enormous opportunities to gain a hearing, and the dozens of strikes at the start of 2009 showed the workers’ willingness to resist, yet the NPA has failed to take advantage of the situation. As soon as the European elections were over the NPA completely changed its stance. A joint statement from the NPA and PG, published the day after the June CPN, at which it had not been discussed, completely changed the orientation of the party. It had been decided that the main priority for the NPA, in the light of the impending regional elections, was to enter into discussions with the other parties to the left of the PS.
This debate then totally dominated the life of the party, gradually stifling its political life. The net result, by virtue of the platform adopted by the majority of the leadership at the time (later to become P1), was that, region by region, the political content of the material produced and the agreements with other forces varied wildly and were often based on an extremely weak position.
Things have gone from bad to worse since then, both in terms of the absence of democracy and the priority given to the debate over electoral tactics. Forget about any appeal to workers or the unorganised youth, forget any discussion about action, how we intervene and what we defend, or any of the other vital subjects which were referred to working groups which had virtually all come from the old LCR.
The tense atmosphere, harsh polemics (not to put it any stronger), ensured that none of the debates were ever calm. The latest national meetings (Congress, National Conference, National Political Committee) were horrible from this point of view, and on each occasion new activists were repelled.
And it’s far from over, we can see the same tensions and the same barriers over the presidential election and no doubt soon, in another way, over the legislative elections, since the NPA leadership only has an accidental ‘majority’, given that no real political agreement emerged from the June 2011 National Conference.
Far from drawing a balance sheet of all this, the three main fractions which dominate the NPA (all of them historically fractions of the LCR) are stifling the party’s political life. Fraction P2, regarded as the ‘left wing of the party’, and of which we were co-founders, preferred to form an alliance within the leadership rather than try to enter an open-ended dialogue with the ranks of a broad party but which nevertheless has workers and youth at its core. Since its launch the NPA has lost half its members and the process is accelerating.
The crisis could have been overcome if we had gone back to discuss the basics, and if a democratic way of working, which really involved the whole of the membership in discussions and decisions, had been in place.
This is the very opposite of what happened at the National Conference where activists were only able to take a position for or against documents which they had not been invited to contribute to collectively.
There has never been a genuine attempt at a balance sheet, that’s to say a calm analysis of political mistakes made. Some comrades accuse others of not being sufficiently ‘revolutionary’, and those comrades reply that the others are being too ‘sectarian’, and that’s as far as we get. But one of the major problems with the NPA is that it never undertakes in-depth discussions, never takes the time to re-examine slogans and demands in the light of changing situations, or changes in consciousness or new events.
Whereas in the early days of the party we saw a willingness to develop ideas, admittedly in a somewhat chaotic way, this was quickly replaced, in the name of a fictional consensus, by formulae which derived either from the former LCR or from the anti-globalisation movement. Take the example of redundancies, where the slogan ‘a ban on redundancies’ was used irrespective of the situation and without any explanation of how that would take place (by introducing a law ? by trade union right of veto ? or by nationalisation / public ownership under workers’ control ?), or the national debt (where there was a refusal to issue the clear demand for nationalisation of the banking, insurance and finance sector under the control of the workers and the general population – and where even today the formulations used vary from document to document), or the environment (where the debate seemed to be reduced to whether the timescale for closing down nuclear power stations should be 10 or 20 years)… these are just examples, none of these questions was properly debated in a fraternal manner, where comrades try to understand what people really mean by certain slogans. And none of this was linked to what the core membership of the NPA should be doing, namely working out a programme to intervene in struggles and transform those struggles into steps, however small, in the battle to overthrow capitalism and replace it with socialism.
To cap it all, whenever there were election campaigns this was what generated the most discussion and at the same time the most confrontation. The former leadership of the NPA, divided as it is today, bears a heavy responsibility for this. But things are no better now, since what divides the NPA today are the elections, firstly the presidential election, then the impending legislative elections, with major factional disputes and, increasingly, financial problems. Any documents agreed merely reflect the balance of forces in the national leadership, and those changes according to the issue. Some comrades even seem to want to put the NPA on hold, to go back to the LCR perhaps?
Moreover, official NPA circulars have been used to restructure the French section of the Fourth International to which the LCR was affiliated, without other currents within the party (including ourselves, affiliated to the Committee for a Workers’ International) being informed and without us being afforded the same opportunity. With all this factional confusion, the NPA’s intervention in struggle as a party with a programme to offer is either pushed into the background or carried out in a purely formal manner, where a few demands do service as a programme. Over time members have become exhausted and have moved away, including our own GR members.
If one adds to the equation that the internal functioning of the party has never been good, that many decisions were not taken in a transparent way, many activists have drawn the conclusion that the party has been taken out of their hands.
The NPA leadership hasn’t drawn the lessons of the failure of new parties throughout the world (Portuguese Left Bloc, P-Sol in Brazil, Syriza in Greece, Scottish SSP etc). By seeking electoral success above all else, and not taking sufficient time to discuss the strategy and tactics involved in the struggle, and not having a clear orientation, the party never came across as a first step towards a real alternative to the pro-capitalist parties, one capable of starting from the concrete situation and present struggles (in which plenty of activists are taking part) in order to map out a path to socialism. The NPA came across as an ‘anti’ party, against capitalism, against the far right, against nuclear power etc., but not as a party which is in favour of a society which can get rid of the problems created by capitalism, namely a socialist society.
End of an era
The sudden decline after the congress, and, a few weeks later, the decision by O Besancenot, which took many activists by surprise, not to stand in the presidential election, has further weakened the party. Currently the party is divided, with a small majority (made up of the former P2 which we helped to build, and of a section of the former majority known as P1A who shared the leadership of the NPA with those who are now in the minority, and who thus partly shaped the party’s trajectory and who still haven’t explained why they switched) who support the candidature of Ph Poutou. It is a quite unique candidature, for a car worker who is still working in his factory to be a Presidential candidate. Moreover he is a worker who, over several years of battling alongside hundreds of other workers in his factory, has managed to prevent Ford from totally closing the Blanquefort factory. 1000 jobs were saved. The minority, known as ‘Anti-capitalist Left’ argue that he should stand down without making any suggestion about what the party might do in this election.
The atmosphere of confrontation within the party does nothing to help. In addition the content of the campaign which the NPA leadership has decided on is politically weak. They merely string together a set of demands (wage increases, stop the redundancies etc) which are fine in themselves but woefully inadequate for this period of profound capitalist crisis. At no point does the campaign raise the question of power, of overthrowing the system, or rejecting capitalism. The idea of a ‘social shield’ to protect oneself with from the capitalist offensive takes no account of the fact that it’s impossible to create this ‘shield’ in the present situation and that the workers know that all too well. When action reaches a certain level, people won’t limit themselves to a social shield but will be looking to overthrow the capitalist order. The desire to get rid of Sarkozy works mainly to the advantage of the PS, and the rejection of the politicians who work the system favours Marine le Pen and the FN on the one hand, and Jean Luc Melenchon on the other. When Besancenot stood in 2007 his campaign combined people’s aspirations, rejection of the establishment and the desire to overthrow capitalism, but today’s NPA campaign remains focussed on a set of demands which don’t sufficiently echo the general feeling that people are fed up with politicians, the anti-social policies they implement and the capitalist system they serve.
The main candidate to the left of the PS, Jean Luc Mélenchon, uses slogans like ‘Take power!’, but the NPA is stuck with its set of demands. Instead of challenging Melenchon and saying, ‘Good idea, let’s talk about how we can best do that,’ or ‘Let’s take real power, the economy and finance, let’s nationalise the banks and the multinationals, let’s cancel the debt, let’s fight together for that !’, the NPA campaign is tied to perfectly correct slogans like ‘we won ‘t pay for their crisis’ but without saying who we direct our appeal towards, especially with regard to a force like Melenchon’s Front de Gauche. How do we go about not paying for the crisis?
The NPA minority, the Gauche anti-capitaliste, actually make this point. But it’s often in the context of their desire to make an electoral pact with the FdG, or with sections of it, for the legislative elections. The GA remains convinced that only an electoral breakthrough can change the situation, although good results for the radical left in Europe over recent years haven’t led to change in the situation. Prioritising electoral success (not wrong in itself) often leads to multiple concessions to the partners involved. For example the GA has accepted that we should limit ourselves to calling for a moratorium (suspension) of the debt so as not to pay ‘illegitimate’ debt (and how do we decide which part of the debt is legitimate and which illegitimate, and illegitimate in relation to who or what?).
So we will continue to support the presidential candidature of Poutou, because he embodies the struggle of the Ford workers against the closure of their factory, and the struggle of thousands of others, and because he still represents the project that the NPA could have become, a party where workers, the unemployed, the young etc. can meet, struggle and express themselves collectively.
The voters who support Melenchon or Nathalie Arthaud of Lutte Ouvriere are not in the opposite camp. But it remains to be seen what the FdG will do with its vote, whether it will use it to negotiate deals with the PS, thus betraying the deepest aspirations for a real change of its electors.
In June 2011 we issued our umpteenth warning of a disastrous new turn. In the face of the latest disputes, we stated that we must avoid a situation in which ‘the ‘war zone’ atmosphere which sometimes prevails would transform the party into a waste-land’.
As a new party the NPA is a failure, evidence of which is the loss of nearly 2/3 of its members but also its dysfunctional way of working today. The NPA risks fragmentation in the coming months, with one section continuing on its path as a kind of LCR Mark 2, whereas the other part will turn towards the organisations to the left of the PS. Among the members a section will follow the former in order to save a fighting organisation, which is perfectly understandable, but the present leadership, who are following that path, no longer have any ambition to build a broad party. As for the leaders of the other section, they confuse the issue of building a broad party with that of regrouping the various forces to the left of the PS, which for them is the priority. They have abandoned the idea of a party which makes a direct appeal to workers, young people and the oppressed in general, even though it is correct to have an orientation towards other forces to the left of the PS.
We think we have nothing more to contribute to the NPA, which we have attempted to build, whatever statements we have made which might have been clearer. We are for a pluralist party, where the activists decide, debate fraternally etc, but today the factionalisation of the party makes that impossible.
The failure of the NPA doesn’t mean the end. We are in favour of keeping the closest possible contact with those who, alongside us, have tried to defend the idea of a mass party of struggle against capitalism, and that means especially many comrades in P2. We will take part in any initiative which will allow us to continue the debate with each other and we will meet again in the struggle.
The NPA could have been saved if, as we suggested, it had put the basic questions at the heart of its discussions. It could have bounced back if it had democratised its internal workings, allowing more space for the rank and file, taking time out to discuss whenever new subjects or events arose. The internal regime of the party, which is entirely dominated by the conflict within the leadership, makes that impossible. As for the political orientation of the party it may be regarded as a bit more ‘class struggle’ than a year ago, but that doesn’t reflect the real acivity of the party which is focussed, once again, on the presidential and legislative elections. When Ph Poutou told the press ‘we have to fight but people don’t believe in it any more’ there wasn’t even a response from the party to say no, it’s not that ‘people’ don’t believe in it any more, but that despite the anger and rage that they feel towards the system they haven’t found a way to get organised and to turn that anger into action.
That’s why we believe that there is no room for GR, as a revolutionary socialist tendency, within the NPA. The NPA has failed to make that first step towards being a new party for workers. In spite of the mess which this failure represents, we believe there will be other opportunities to build a new party for socialism, in which we will play our part.
Further great waves of class struggle are on their way, the crisis will deepen in 2012, with a possible recession in France, Germany and many other countries, as is shown by the titanic battles in Greece, Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere. The rise of the Front National, the defence of capitalist austerity plans by the PS, and the continuation of violently anti-working class policies by the government and the employers, which neither the right nor the PS oppose, will encounter mass resistance from workers, young people, pensioners, men and women, whether they are French or immigrants.
We will be better able to defend our ideas and our programme for socialist revolution by becoming an independent organisation again, by organising our own activities, with slogans which are our own. All those comrades who share this perspective and want to continue to discuss with us, especially those who are disappointed or furious about the NPA’s failure, and who want to build a party to overthrow capitalism, can contact us to continue our joint struggle.