An appeal to the NPA: don't split!

Submitted by Matthew on 18 April, 2012 - 10:36

For the French Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (New Anti-capitalist Party — NPA), and the ex-LCR (Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire) core of the NPA, to split now would be a great setback not only for activists in France but for all of us who fight for working-class self-emancipation, all across Europe.

Reports from France point to a “cold split” already, and an open split after the legislative assembly elections in June. At the end of March, tensions exploded in a public battle over who would get the government subsidy due to the heirs of the LCR, under French law, on the basis of the LCR’s score in the 2007 election. The LCR minority, as we understand it, proposed that only 57% of the cash go to the NPA treasury, the other 43% going to the minority and to another group which left the LCR in 2009.

We are glad to read that the prospect of the dispute being decided in the bourgeois courts has been avoided for now, but it seems not to have been settled.

Leaders of the minority have publicly expressed their view that the NPA would do better to support Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the candidate backed by the French Communist Party and other forces clustered round Mélenchon’s own Left Party (a splinter from the Socialist Party), in the French presidential election (22 April/6 May) than to continue with its own candidate, Philippe Poutou.

That is their right. They have also gone further, publicly committing themselves, in activity, to Mélenchon’s campaign, i.e. creating an active split as well as a difference of opinion.

The majority refers publicly to the minority as a group which “is both inside and outside the NPA”.

This is no small division. The minority claims to represent 40% of the NPA membership and leadership. Its prominent people, such as Pierre-Francois Grond and Myriam Martin, were central figures in the LCR before it dissolved itself, in 2009, into the larger NPA.

Different views on the presidential election are no basis for a split.

There are reasonable arguments for the NPA presenting Poutou. Only with a candidate of its own can a party present itself in the electoral arena as a distinct political alternative rather than just a force for criticism and pressure, and thus the general rule is that a party with sufficient resources and profile should stand a candidate where it can.

If it has built a political profile by standing candidates — as the LCR did before the NPA — then there is a reasonable argument for sustaining a continued profile, and emphasising what is permanent and fundamental about the politics, by still contesting elections even when the score on a particular occasion looks poor. (Poutou is currently at 0.5% in the opinion polls, though the LCR candidate Olivier Besancenot got 4.1% in 2007 and 4.25% in 2002).

A reasonable argument can also be made for backing MĂ©lenchon. He has rallied support far beyond the ambit of the CP and the Left Party. From 5% in the polls in October 2011, he has risen to 16% today, and he has drawn huge crowds.

The NPA, despite being the strongest force of the revolutionary socialist left in Europe, is still a small group of a few thousands. Maybe it would gain more political traction by integrating itself into crowds of the MĂ©lenchon campaign and seeking leverage to explain to the MĂ©lenchon crowds how clear working-class politics would serve their interests better.

The wrong line on such tactical issues can be damaging. But they are tactical issues. The election is only an episode. The damage of a wrong tactic here is much less than the damage of a split.

“Every great action begins with a statement of what is”, as Lassalle put it. The overthrow of capitalism, and the victory of working-class self-emancipation, begins with the creation of an organised political force which reliably advocates and fights for the working class to become the ruling class and to secure democratic collective ownership of the means of production.

A million tactical questions then remain. But they are all contingent on, and secondary to the creation and consolidation of that class-struggle-socialist political force.

Unity is not a fetish. The future mass working-class revolutionary party will emerge not in a straight line, but only through a zigzag of splits and mergers. Sometimes revolutionary socialists have no choice but to split on tactical questions.

But for a split to be justified, its rationale must be such that it can be explained to the activist working-class public that the alternative would be enervating compromise or paralysis.

For revolutionary socialists to have different opinions on tactics in an election is normal. To split over such an episodic issue is wrong.

AWL and our forerunners have always had differences with the NPA and the LCR. But we have always sought dialogue and cooperation, too.

The LCR and the NPA — like the AWL, but, unfortunately, like very few other organisations of the radical left — has had a regime of open and democratic debate, with a drive to develop a clear collective political line but with the right for minorities to dissent openly without anathemas and expulsions. Even when the LCR and the NPA have been grievously in error, they have had a political culture which allowed for self-correction.

That political culture has made the existence of the LCR and the NPA, as organisations of some weight and profile, an asset to activists like ourselves all across Europe.

In appealing against a split, we address ourselves mainly to the NPA minority, since, as far as we can see from here, the NPA majority has been liberal in its allowances for minority rights.

The minority’s statements suggest movement towards, not just a tactic of backing Mélenchon the better to get traction for distinct revolutionary socialist ideas, but a virtual political identification with Mélenchon. They propose as future organisation an “anti-crises left”, demarcated by commitment not to join a Hollande-led government and not much more.

It seems incongruous for activists in Britain to remind activists in France of this, but to oppose social democracy is not enough. For many decades the French Communist Party has been somewhat to the left of social democracy on questions of French politics. In the past the CP scored higher than Mélenchon does now (21% in the 1969 presidential election). Today the CP is the backbone of Mélenchon’s campaign.

But the LCR and the NPA have existed precisely because the CP, even if “leftish”, has been a force for corruption, bureaucratisation, and miseducation, not for enlightenment, in the working class.

The CP was to the right of social democracy on many international issues, notably workers’ rights in the Stalinist states, and today’s CP has escaped the old Moscow control? Yes, but even today’s CP is rotten on international issues, and it was not just the CP’s line on international issues which made us argue that a better party was necessary.

The minority has criticised the CP for indicating that it would join a Hollande-led government given the chance? Yes, but an adequate working-class political force is defined not only and not mainly by what it is against, but by what it is for.

To define the left we want as demarcated only by opposition to the SP leaves the SP leaders, rather than us, to define the parameters; and leads both to sectarianism towards the workers who back the SP, and to political vapidity.

Look at what has happened to the previous (smaller) minority which quit the NPA in 2009, the Gauche Unitaire led by Christian Picquet. Picquet now chairs Mélenchon’s campaign staff. The GU are not intervening in the Mélenchon campaign to advance revolutionary socialist politics. The Mélenchon campaign has “intervened” in and absorbed them.

Myriam Martin, a leader of the current minority, has been quoted as saying: “We had different interpretations of the initial project [of the NPA]. There were things not teased out enough over these last two years”.

This seems true. The move to create the NPA came after many years of debate in the LCR about piecing together a “new anti-capitalist force” — from splinters of the SP and the CP, and so on — into which the LCR could then merge. Negotiations repeatedly yielded nothing, and finally the LCR decided to launch a “new anti-capitalist party” by direct appeal of the LCR to individual activists.

There was much talk about the “new party” nevertheless not being just a rebranded and expanded LCR. But, as we said when we attended the LCR congress which decided on the drive for the NPA, no-one should have expected a miracle to ensure that. The NPA would be a group with broadly the same politics as LCR, but a broader reach — and a good thing too.

The NPA at first launch drew about 9,000 members, compared to the LCR’s 3,000. Perhaps inevitably given political conditions, perhaps in part because of errors (we don’t know), there has been much shake-out since then. When the NPA held local congresses in preparation for its June 2011 conference, the total voting was only 3,100.

The shake-out has caused more disarray than it needed to because many LCR and NPA people hoped for something miraculous — hoped that the shift from the LCR format to the NPA format would somehow enable them to jump over the problem that revolutionary socialist ideas as yet convince only a small minority (although a bigger minority in France than in Britain).

There was much talk about “new epoch, new programme, new party”. But to desire new thinking, as a generally good thing, is not the same as producing it.

Too often, in practice, the desire for a “new programme” has led to junking the “old” programme, and replacing it by no programme at all, beyond a vocal and militant tone on “left” causes as defined by broad public opinion, rather than by a carefully-analysed revision in light of new conditions.

One strand of that evolution which we have particularly noticed has been on Israel and Palestine. The LCR would explain (sometimes more clearly, sometimes less so) that “two states appears to be the only way to open, eventually, the road to a federal or confederal solution for the two groups occupying the same land” (bit.ly/lcrisrael). The NPA only echoes “broad” anti-Israel indignation, in militant tones implying a desire to see Israel destroyed, with no hint of an independent approach geared to uniting Arab and Jewish workers.

A similar evolution on other questions has led to debate in the NPA being narrowed down, more and more, to squabbles over electoral tactics. That, combined with impatient desires magically to escape the irritations of revolutionary socialism still for now being a small-minority cause, has led to a danger of split.

We appeal to all NPA activists to rally against the split.

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