Saturday, 1 November 2008

France: Capitalist crisis and mass strike set scene for NPA

by Sam Wainwright from Green Left Weekly 14 February 2009 On the weekend of February 7-8, over 600 delegates and as many observers attended the founding conference of France's New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA), held at la Plaine-Saint-Denis in the working class suburbs to the north of Paris. Less than a week before, on January 29; around 2.5 million people took to the streets across the country as part of a nationwide strike against the efforts of the government of Nicolas Sarkozy to foist the burden of the capitalist economic crisis on to working people. The idea for the organisation was publicly proposed in August 2007 in the wake of the country's presidential and legislative elections by Olivier Besancenot, the presidential candidate of the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR). Since then 465 regional committees in support of the project were launched and over nine thousand people have joined. Besancenot's score of 4.7% surpassed that of the once mighty French Communist Party's (PCF) candidate, and with his engaging and straight talking style established his party as the most recognised and authentic anti-capitalist voice in French politics. Widely rated as France's most popular politician, "the Postie" as even the media call him recorded a 54% satisfaction rating in the latest opinion polls, his highest since the election. Besancenot's strong showing in the last two presidential elections was the immediate catalyst for the formation of the NPA; however its origins lie more deeply in important transformations in French politics over the last decade. Firstly beginning with a massive public sector strike in late 1995, there have been regular waves of struggles by French workers resisting the attempts by the employers and governments to impose the worldwide model of cut backs, casualisation and privatisation. While these struggles have been defensive and only partially successful, they have been sufficient to keep alive the traditions of struggle, left wing ideas and renew layer after layer of activists. Despite the massive rejection of the cut-back agenda by the working class, the traditional or "institutional" parties of the left have faithfully tried to implement the neo-liberal austerity program. The working class fight-back used to put something of a brake on the Socialist Party (PS), but it is now increasingly embracing the Tony Blair model. Furthermore the PS has very effectively drawn both the PCF and the Greens into its web, offering them cabinet posts (when it is in government, and still at the regional level); and electoral deals in return for their support. Their integration into PS governments has eroded the PCF's once significant base among blue collar workers and in the case of the Greens, their image as something as fresh and radical. In fact without the PS electoral deals both parties would struggle to win any national deputies. In this context the LCR tripled in size since 1995 to over three thousand members and already regrouped nearly all of France's far left, save some very schematic and dogmatic groups. It also started to develop a significant base in some of the country's industrial heartlands that had once been the sole domain of the PCF. However the LCR recognised that there existed a much wider audience for a resolutely anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, pro-worker and pro-environment political force; including many people from different political traditions such as former members of the PCF, and even more people without any previous political identification. The NPA is an attempt to reach out to those people. To guarantee the success of the NPA the LCR decided it had to completely dissolve into it; firstly to demonstrate to the rest of the NPA membership that it would be one united party of equals, and secondly to allow for new and fluid debate to take place in the new organisation. As long time former leader of the LCR Pierre Rousset explained, "One of the worst things the LCR could bring into the NPA would be its old debates." On February 5 the LCR, born of a fusion between a current of French Trotskyism and some of the leaders of the student protest movement of May-June 1968, held its last ever congress. Alain Krivine, a central leader of May-June 68 and founder of the LCR who did time in prison when the organisation was banned in the early 70s, was joined by other members of his generation at the front for an emotional rendition of the Internationale at the congress close. But the tears did not last long. The next day as the NPA congress began delegates spontaneously rose to their feet to chant "All together, all togetherŠGeneral strike!" before getting down to the practical business of adopting the raft of founding principles, policy and structures needed for the new party. As was predicted the new party decided to retain its provisional name. Plenty would admit that it was not perfect; it does not express what the party is for and how long can it keep calling itself new? However the name has already started to stick and has a resonance in a country where there are already parties carrying the name socialist and communist who are not anti-capitalist! Exciting as much interest, especially among the capitalist media, was the NPA's policy regarding possible electoral alliances in the upcoming elections to the European parliament. While these are conducted on a proportional basis, a ticket has to cross the 10% threshold to qualify for representation. Neither the NPA, the PCF nor the newly formed Left Party (PG) are likely to get this by themselves. As primarily electoral organisations both the PCF and PG were frantic that the NPA agree to deal. Congress delegates were presented with two counter-posed positions regarding the European elections. The position presented by the commission established for drafting policy on the matter declared that the NPA should be open to running on a joint ticket with these parties (and others) but on the basis of first reaching agreement on some basic common policy including an agreement not to take posts PS pro-capitalist administrations. However the PCF, while it tries to distance itself from the PS come election time, is addicted to the trappings of office and it's quite unlikely that it will break from this orientation. An amendment from members in the Clermont-Ferrand region proposed that the NPA accept in principle a joint ticket with the PCF and PG, with the precise basis of the agreement to be worked out later. However the amendment was overwhelmingly rejected, only winning the support of 16% of the delegates. For commentators in the capitalist media this was proof of the NPA's "immature" refusal to accept the "responsibility to govern". Is this a sign that the capitalist media may turn against France's favourite postman and try to transform him from charming idealist into dangerous villain? Already there has been an aborted attempt to tar him with a bogus allegation of workplace harassment. Last year listening devices were discovered in Besancenot's home. The boss of company that imports taser guns is currently being tried over the affair! Besancenot couldn't move around the conference without being followed by a media pack, yet the same media then try to diminish the NPA as little more than a media creation at his whim. However the NPA is moving rapidly to broaden its image and promote its other spokespeople. In any case the capitalist media may well find that the regeneration of the anti-capitalist left has surpassed such intrigue as the economic crisis deepens hardening opinion against the Sarkozy government. Sam Wainwright is a Co-convenor of the Socialist Alliance in Western Australia and attended both the LCR and NPA congresses as an invited observer.

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