Cathérine Ayme is an activist in the JCR (Revolutionary Communist Youth, linked to the LCR, Revolutionary Communist League) in Lille, France. In London for the Workers' Climate Action gathering on 15-16 November, she talked to Martin Thomas about the efforts of the LCR and JCR to launch a broader new anti-capitalist party in January 2009.
This is a longer version of the article than in the printed paper.
M. After long years of discussion about the possibility of creating a new anti-capitalist party by a coalition with other formations, the LCR eventually made the decision to try to build such a new party from below. Can you tell us the steps accomplished since that decision, and the steps that remain to be taken?
C. I wasn't involved in the first stages, which took place inside the LCR leadership, of which I'm not part. But the LCR congress voted for the platform which spelled out the project; the JCR also voted for the project.
Then it was decided that the basis of the new structure would be local committees. LCR activists should set up committees in the different cities of France and work so that those committees drew in new activists.
We began to discuss collectively, in the new committees, the structure of the new party. We provisionally took NPA [Nouveau Parti Anti-Capitaliste, or New Anti-Capitalist Party] as the name.
There are about 500 or 600 local committees, with an average of maybe 15 members. Then local, regional, and national leaderships have been formed.
On 25/26 June we had the first meeting of the national coordination, with as many delegates as we could get. It went well. There were a lot of people there, very keen to set up the new party.
We have discussed the fundamental texts for the new party which are going to be voted on at the founding congress on 30/31 January 2009. Each local committee can put its amendments.
On 8/9 November there was the second meeting of the coordination.
Over the summer, there was the LCR summer school, which was also, in a way, the first summer school of the new party.
Then there will be dissolution congresses for the LCR and the JCR, followed by the first congress of the new party. For that congress, it will be one delegate per local committee. Otherwise there will be too many people in the hall, and it won't be really democratic.
M. Since the beginning of the "new party" process, we have seen the development of a capitalist economic crisis such as we have not seen for decades. How has this marked the discussions in preparation for the new party?
C. It's interesting to see how the texts we are discussing have changed as the crisis has developed. Now we have lots of people wanted to put the financial crisis upfront in the texts - the discrediting of capitalism, how it shows we need a new project, and so on.
That has caused quite a lot of discussion in the national meetings, with people saying that it is not judicious to base everything on this particular period and to talk only about the crisis in the first lines of the party's basic texts.
We don't know how things are going to develop, and anyway there is something a bit ephemeral about it.
But anyway, we have talked a lot about the crisis, and it has brought a lot of new people into the party. We have used it a lot as a lever in our leaflets and in talking to people.
M. Are there other organised political currents besides the LCR participating in this project?
C. Yes. Or, at least, other currents which are interested in it. It is being discussed at national level.
For example there is the Lutte Ouvriere [minority] faction [now expelled by LO] called L'Etincelle. We're discussing about how they can be brought in. The provisional conclusion is that they should be brought in as a political organisation, but on condition that they dissolve at the same time as the LCR and the JCR. The faction seems pretty happy with that proposal, but we'll see.
As regards other political organisations, there was the CRI [a splinter from the Parti des Travailleurs]. A commission was set up to discuss this question of political organisations, and that commission has decided for the time being that it would not be a good thing to accept the CRI as an organisation, because it does not at all want to carry through a project in common but rather to look for activists whom it may be able to recruit from the project.
Unfortunately I'm not sufficiently briefed to talk about the new organisation launched by [Jean-Luc] Mélenchon [and Marc Dolez: left-wingers in the Socialist Party who have split to form a new group announced on 13 November as the Parti de Gauche (Left Party)] or the attitude to it of [Christian] Picquet [leader of a minority in the LCR who rejected the project of a new party on revolutionary lines as too narrow].
M. And the Gauche Révolutionnaire [group in France linked to the Socialist Party in England]?
M. Can you give some figures?
C. The 500 or 600 committees mean that the numbers are about double those of the LCR and JCR. But we don't have the membership cards in yet from all the local committees. We'll see more exactly in January.
Some statistical analysis has been done on the cards sent in so far. It shows some sad things. There are lot more men than women in the NPA; only 7% of young people (under 25)... But the statistics are not very solid yet. There are lot of youth committees which have not sent in membership cards yet.
M. Tell us a bit about how things have gone in your area, in Lille.
C. There are three local NPA committees in Lille. At the start there was only one, but when it got up to about 70 people we divided it into three. And then there is a youth committee. Each local committee has about 25 people.
In the youth committee we're all young, of course - about 15 members, where the JCR had five members before. Not a lot of young women, unfortunately.
In the local committees there are more men, too, and often older, sometimes over 40, the average around 30 to 40 years old.
The new youth are mostly people who have no previous political experience. Sometimes they come from families with a bit of a leftist tradition, but usually around the Socialist Party rather the Communist Party. We've got some people from the alternative-globalisation milieu who want to get more politicised, but mostly that milieu keeps its distance because they see us as too political. A few people from an anarchist background.
In the local committees, too, you find people who are from the milieu around the Socialist Party but now really want to do something, or people from a Communist Party milieu but want to do something wider.
Socially, the widening-out is in the same social milieu as most of the LCR: white-collar officials; a lot of teachers; a lot of social workers, and so on. Not so many industrial workers.
In the youth committee, it is mostly students, mostly from universities, from subjects like law, philosophy, history, geography, and so on.
There are some high school students. Some are very active, but others give less time, because it's hard work in high school. The youth committee makes efforts for them, for example holding meetings at 4pm instead of 8pm so they can come straight from school and participate without getting shouted at by their parents.
It is difficult to get through to the industrial working class, or to young people doing apprenticeships. But we are making efforts.
Each committee fixes its meeting routine, but the norm is for committees to meet fortnightly. For now, LCR cells are still meeting, in the alternate week. But it varies. For example, at Lille, where there are few JCR in the youth committee, we don't have the JCR circle meetings any longer. We do everything through the committee.
M. What discussions have you had on the European election in 2009?
C. It is discussed a lot at national level. In fact, at the last national coordination meeting, it was proposed that the text on orientation, one of the three basic texts for the January congress [alongside statutes and "founding principles"] should be divided into two parts, one on elections and one more general.
But the local committees each decide what they will talk about, and so far there's not much talk there about the European election. We're not electoralists.
Instead people talk about the financial crisis, ecology, feminism, internationalism, what activism means today, anti-racism... Some committees have decided to discuss the big Trotskyist questions.
M. There have been three big examples in Europe in recent years of attempts at broad left parties, Rifondazione in Italy, Die Linke in Germany, and the Scottish Socialist Party in Scotland. What are the discussions in the NPA movement about these models?
C. We talked about that much more at the summer school than in the local committees, because you need educated activists for that sort of discussion.
For me personally, it would be a big mistake to follow that sort of model. In one of the committees in Lille, someone proposed for the name of the new party "La Gauche" [French equivalent of "Die Linke" in German or "The Left" in English]. You could see a lot of more clued-in activists rolling their eyes.
M. The documents suggest that the new party is being built as a party of adherents rather than of activists. The draft statutes say nothing about a necessary minimum level of activism to be a member, and the draft "founding principles" talk about every member being able to find their place in the party "whatever their level of commitment".
This is the historic model of social democracy. It brings problems. It can be easier for a bad leadership to dominate if it can draw on a base of passive members who don't know the party's debates and do not care too much about the decisions because they feel no obligation to carry them out. Members who get seats in local councils, or trade-union positions, can come to operate more under the influence of their immediate milieu, in the council or in the union, than of the party.
C. You've identified a passage about "whatever their level of commitment" which does seem problematic. We want a party of activists. At the same time we don't want to frighten off people. We want to make activism accessible, not something you can do only if it's just sleep, eat, NPA all the time.
M. The NPA defines itself pretty clearly as revolutionary. It also defines what it is against. It is anti-capitalist. But it is less clear on what it is for. In the texts there are passing references to "a government at the service of the workers" and an "anti-capitalist government", but very little explanation of what sort of government and what sort of state the NPA fights for.
C. That's being discussed. There are some people who want the term "workers' state" in the texts, and some who say no. Then there were people in one meeting who said that they didn't want a state, but at the same time they wanted democratic centralism. The job is work out a clear project with a whole lot of people who come from different backgrounds.
M. The documents reject some alternatives to capitalism - those of the old USSR and Mao's China - models which no longer exist. But they say nothing about the models which still exist today, Cuba or so-called "21st century socialism" in Venezuela.
C. We're setting up an international commission which is putting this sort of question on its agenda. I went to the first meeting of this international commission, and it was very interesting. It's going to divide up into groups to cover different regions - Europe, Latin America, Africa, etc. - and work groups on particular subjects, too. There are illusions around about Venezuela, Cuba, etc.; there is a lot of work to do there.
M. There is just one place in the three draft texts where it speaks of the lessons of the 20th century. That is in the statutes, where it says that "the balance-sheet of the 20th century, in particular of Stalinism" indicates that the party should be organised democratically.
The problem in the Stalinist USSR, China, etc. was not one of revolutionary workers' parties which chose bad methods of organisation. Stalinism was a social question, a question of a different social formation.
In the LCR some people have argued that part of the blame for Stalinism lies with bad methods of party organisation by the Bolsheviks, and that we should reconsider all those questions. Is there any discussion on this?
C. No, there hasn't been time to dig down into that sort of question. The passage in the statutes serves to differentiate us clearly from an organisation marked by bureaucracy. We haven't got into a precise and deep analysis to show the subtleties of the question - the fact that it is about context and not just organisation as such. The passage in the draft statutes is about rejecting a certain vision of organisation. It may be that on the theoretical level it is false to put the question of Stalinism only in the statutes. I don't know.
M. What is being discussed about the international relations of the new party?
C: There hasn't been much discussion yet. In the international commission we have discussed the question of the Fourth International [the international network of which the LCR is part together with other groups such as the ISG in Britain]. Are we going to found a new International? And so on.