France: Sarkozy’s ‘strength’ is the lack of a fighting socialist alternative

What prospects are there for the development of a New Anti-capitalist Party?

After just over a year in office, Nicolas Sarkozy is one of the most unpopular presidents in the history of the French Republic. His greatest ‘strength’ is the weakness of the opposition parties and the collusion of the trade union leaders with his attacks on the hard-won gains of workers and young people. Big strike days were organised in May in opposition to the government’s plans – especially on pension rights – both in the private and public sector. Workers and young people are angry and in local elections voted against the party of Sarkozy. But with the ‘Socialist’ Party abandoning the last vestiges of a socialist programme and the local elections favouring them and the ‘Communist’ Party mainly as the ‘lesser evils’, there is an urgent need for a new party of workers.

Such a party will need to be decidedly anti-capitalist and pro-socialist, especially in view of the economic crisis hitting French and world capitalism already. We, in Gauche révolutionnaire, like our fellow CWI members in other countries, have argued consistently for the launching a new workers’ party which we feel will have to be broad, inclusive and federal, as well as clearly socialist, if it is to succeed. There were opportunities before now, but at last an initiative has been taken by the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire in which we are fully participating.

A real fighting anti-capitalist party developing now could make a real difference to the effectiveness of workers’ and young people’s struggles against the government. It could also, like die LINKE in Germany and SYRIZA in Greece, gather support in elections and challenge the old workers parties which have adopted neo-liberal policies to try and keep capitalism on the road. The collapse in support for the Party of Communist Refoundation in Italy is a direct result in participating in governments with such previously ‘left’ parties, now almost indistinguishable from those of the right.

Conference in Paris

On the week-end 28 and 29 June, just days before France took on the presidency of a troubled European Union, nearly a thousand representatives of coordinating committees around the country assembled in Paris to discuss plans for launching a ‘New Anti-capitalist Party.’ These committees were created this year, following the appeal last August from Olivier Besancenot, the candidate in the last presidential election for the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire (LCR) who received nearly one and a half million votes. As a spokesperson of the LCR, he made a national appeal for the building of a new anti-capitalist party (NPA), which was then officially adopted in January, 2008 by the LCR national congress.

This first national meeting gathered 900 people from 300 NPA initiative committees all around France. There were huge expectations of the meeting from people involved. The creation of the committees for a new anticapitalist party was actually very uneven. Some regions, as in the Bouches du Rhône, (Marseilles) or around Mulhouse, in the East, created their committees before January and before the LCR congress; other committees were built in June 2008. Since last spring, in a period of youth struggles, of strike days against Sarkozy’s attacks on pensions, public services and struggles against low wages, the national coordination of the committees’ work has become a key issue.

Numerically, the end of June meeting was an obvious success. The majority of the participants expressed a strong wish that the process develops further. But the meeting was not properly prepared to discuss and decide on a real agenda for the activity of the committees and a timetable for planning the needed debates inside the NPA. The LCR, which organised this meeting, unfortunately did not really want to push for discussions inside the committees from the time the date was fixed one month and a half before it was to take place. So, naturally, issues on how to organise the NPA were then the most debated subjects. Often, in these debates disagreements were expressed – on the way to decide the next steps for the NPA, on what kind of temporary national representation there should be and on what representation there should be for the different political currents, the weight of the LCR in the process etc.

It would have been premature to want to debate and decide an all-rounded programme for the NPA at this first national meeting or to fix a precise way of functioning. But, nevertheless, it would have been possible to make a national drive for the necessary debates on points which need to be clarified in the next period and about the NPA’s actions and activity aimed towards workers and young people searching for a political alternative, who are not organised.

The Gauche révolutionnaire intervened in this direction in the plenary session, in the commissions and with a short written contribution given to each participant. Gauche révolutionnaire was present there with comrades representing their local committees and also a national delegation. Our written contribution was centred on three axes:- What kind of party do we need and why is the socialist perspective necessary for the party ? What functioning will allow a large and democratic process to clarify central issues and debates and build the party from now on? What short action programme is needed to intervene in the political situation, build the struggles and popularise the need for a new workers’ party?

The willingness of the participants to make the process go on allowed a political declaration to be produced. That shows a real step forward being made in the NPA process – a new appeal which can be used in the next months. This declaration puts forward a “new socialist perspective necessary for the 21st century”, but it immediately adds “we have no political model”. In that sense, the political project of the NPA is not clarified. Debates on the programme, on what a socialist perspective means are inevitable.

The agenda, proposed by the LCR, is very tight. A national founding congress is planned for the end of January 2009, before the elections to the European Parliament. This date should not be an artificial way of accelerating the internal processes of the NPA. There is a risk of fixing too early a process of development and debates which could need more time, even if the electoral background should not be forgotten.

A temporary national steering committee was formed with 60 members. It includes the LCR Political Bureau (21), youth from the JCR (Youth of the LCR) and from the youth committees (8), around 30 non-members of the LCR, two observers for the Lutte ouvrière minority, called “La Fraction” and one for the Gauche révolutionnaire (CWI). On this subject – the composition of the steering committee – a lot of participants regretted the lack of discussions before the national meeting. All the members had not been able to debate the objectives of the national structure and the development of the NPA.

There is a need to intensify debates and concrete interventions of the NPA in the political situation. A fighting programme, standing for an anti-capitalist, socialist perspective, is necessary for workers and youth to struggle. That is why Gauche révolutionnaire will continue to put forward its proposals for the programme and activity of the NPA in the next period.

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July 2008