On the weekend of 7th-8th February a new far-left party was formed in France, as 700 delegates representing 9,100 members held the first congress of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste. It was created at the instigation of the Trotskyist Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire and its semi-autonomous youth wing Jeunesses Communistes Révolutionnaires; the ex-Lutte Ouvrière minority faction l’Étincelle; a few other small groups, and thousands of previously unaffiliated individuals, many of them partisans of the anti-capitalist movements of the last decade. The moves coincide with the 29th January national strike day, and ongoing general strikes in the French-owned islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.
The new party initiative, coming off the back of the LCR’s 1.5 million votes in the 2007 presidential race, has roused significant interest in the French media, and its election candidate Olivier Besancenot has become somewhat of a celebrity. It might be said that the NPA is the revolutionary group in Europe with the strongest hearing, repeatedly winning double-digit support in the polls, and its increased size, relative internal democracy and ‘openness’ as well as its radicalism and uncompromising hostility towards the idea of coalition government with the Parti Socialiste are to be welcomed.
But this rapid growth and the thrusting of one leading figure into the media spotlight creates significant political concerns as well as the positives of increased publicity. The LCR and its sister organisations around the world only a few years ago advocated ‘broad parties’ refusing to dilineate between reform and revolution, in a few cases disastrously supporting social-democrat governments who sold out their supporters. With Besancenot’s rhetoric about his heroes – from Che Guevara to Leon Trotsky – the mix of state-interventionist ideas and talk of workers’ self-management, and a largely politically ‘new’ membership, the precise character of the NPA is all to play for, and here we publish the translation of an interesting NPA article responding to critiques by the right-wing weekly Challenges, which highlights some of these contradictions.
Challenges‘s charges against the NPA: the same old capitalist tune.
The right-wing weekly Challenges has devoted a feature to us in its 5th February issue, under the title “Besancenot: a man with no answers”
It is based on articles in Rouge [the LCR’s paper], statements by Olivier Besancenot and also two NPA leaflets (over 4 pages) about salaries and lay-offs (available on the site). Since this paper has taken the time to “dissect” our demands, we will devote some time to replying to a number of their comments.
Insults pour out from the paper: “Unrealistic, crazy, ruinous proposals”. Damn! We were expecting a serious, well-argued dossier based on facts. But its basis is a hate-filled, purely ideological charge where any idea of a different politics can be nothing other than “delirous”. Capitalism has been struck to the core, but the old slogan popularised by Margaret Thatcher, Tina – “There is no alternative” is still key for the defenders of the system.
Among the first wave of critiques of the NPA, most are based on ideological posturing and are all the stronger for being presented as cut from the cloth of common sense. So any questioning of the centrality of private property is “crazy”. This concerns flagship policies in the NPA’s emergency plan, such as on the establishment of a single public banking service, on price controls, on a public housing service, on water (which they tell a little lie about, since the NPA doesn’t proscribe municipalisation, nor indeed as regards land ownership, a question which the paper does not tackle). Here their critique has nothing do to with what it might cost, but rather the mode of administration. Their critique is purely ideological: we would therefore be demanding a planned economy, which any sensible person would realise would lead to disaster. Exit even the possibility of another way other than capitalism or power given to a minority of bureaucrats. Impossible even to think of socialisation of the major means of production on the basis of self-management. The verdict comes before the trial. We could, however, imagine management on a democratic basis, bringing together the workers in the sector concerned; the service users (whether represented by delegates from other self-managed enterprises further up or down the supply change, or by trade unions and community associations, or both); and elected representatives of the relevant bodies – mayor, region, or state. In any such case, it would mean an elected administration council, with leaders chosen by this council, all subject to recall according to the relevant procedures which come with each type of representation.
The second series of attacks concerns all our proposals looking to reverse the neo-liberal counter-revolution initiated during the 1980s, which led to the succession of crises which have shaken the system – including the current one, by far the most serious. This includes the labour code (the paper considers it “crazy” to generalise the CDI [contrat à durée indeterminée, i.e. a permanent contract]); the systematic tax exemptions for the capitalists – which have had so much bad effect on employment over the years; the defence of pension rights; returning to the level of corporations tax such as it was only a few decades ago… Again, the critique is not that it would cost too much (simple redistribution, strengthening the wage-earners against capital) but that by definition it would be impossible to carry out, given the fact that we live in an open, competitive economy. It’s a circular argument: of course, if you accept this framework, nothing is possible any more. The problem here is not economic, but political. Challenges‘s position is like saying: “Anti-capitalism? Impossible, the capitalists would never go for it!”
Above all, what Challenges does not understand is that we have no interest in coming up with the umpteenth economic regeneration plan to save capitalism. Our demands are not shifting a few billions around to create the “left version” of a way out of the crisis, but demands made so that the population do not have to pay for the damage caused by the system’s global crisis.
Besides, we had the same main demands before the crisis: we have been counting the costs of this system of inequality as long as it has existed!
When elaborating on our proposals we do not start from what would be “realistic” within the limits fixed by this system, but what we think is today necessary for the workforce (workers, the retired, the unemployed, casual workers, young people, poor farmers etc.) as a whole to live, not just survive. With our demands we make clear that the means to allow everyone to live well are largely already in existence.
So, contrary to Challenges, in our eyes, increasing net salaries by 300 euros a month, or ensuring everyone has a minimum income of 1500 euros a month, is not “crazy”, unlike the facts that 600,000 retired people live on the minimum pension, students are queuing up at soup kitchens and some workers have to sleep in their cars.
It is not our proposals for creating a single public banking service under popular control, or free public transport, that are ruinous, but continuing to pour 32 billion euros of aid into businesses under the cover of a policy of ensuring employment (so that these businesses can continue their lay-offs in total impunity!), and the now 73 billion euros of fiscal loopholes allowing France’s hundred thousand richest households to pay less tax, or even none. What is “ruinous” is the new 7.8 billion euro gift to car company bosses so they can continue to sprinkle the shareholders with goodies and make the workers pick up the bill!
For us what is “unrealistic” is not replacing half of public service staff when they retire, leaving hospitals, for example, to deteriorate quickly with a capital Q. Yes, we want the public services to take on 1 million staff. That could be done if we didn’t pay interest on the debts of the chaotic banks the state has just given billions.
In fact what is “crazy” and “ruinous” is that a clutch of speculators and of those who dabble in stocks and shares can plunge all of humanity into a social, food and ecological disaster which will put many more tens of millions of people out of work and means that hundreds of millions of children, women and men will go hungry.
The most emblematic measure, which rouses most ire from the paper, is the banning of lay-offs. Let’s remember the nature of this proposal. It would not cost a penny if the companies are in profit (you could just limit the latter). If they announce losses, that raises the question of whether they are real or caused by transfers between different parts of the same multinational. Similar if the deficit concerns sub-contractors (who most of the time depend on a single big contractor). Verifying this presupposes the absolute transparency of accounts, including workers’ control of the latter, and an end to the thick opacity of capitalist management. The greater part of the private sector’s workforce would be covered by such measures. As regards the rest, who are often held up as evidence against us (a small plumbing firm going through difficulties…) two sorts of measure are necessary. First, re-organising credit as to allow public control via a single socialised bank. Second, the establishment of a fourth branch of social security, financed entirely by the boss class, to cover such risks. Indeed a ban on redundancies does not only cost something but also has benefits on a purely economic level: less unemployment, more taxes, extra demand.
“Everything for us, nothing for them!”
Lastly, Challenges has “discovered” what an anti-capitalist programme really means, a radical redistribution of this country’s wealth. In April 1968 the bosses would also have considered “unrealistic” a 30% rise in the SMIC [salaire minimum interprofessionel de croissance – minimum wage] but two months later, faced with the general strike, they had to concede it! What was possible in May ’68 must be so again today.
But taken together, our demands can only be applied through a break with capitalism. Our plan for society does not accept that part of the fruits of our labour goes to those who exploit us. We do not only want a “better sharing-out of wealth”, but to take it all. The expropriation of the capitalists and workers’ control are indispensible conditions for building a new society shorn of poverty and exploitation.
The possibility of living decently is had hand. But we have to free ourselves from the straitjacket of the market economy. A workers’ government arising from struggle would be able to implement such demands, which supposes a frontal assault on the interests of the bourgeoisie. What would be “unrealistic, crazy and ruinous” would be the continuation of this system. Capitalism cannot be reformed. As we said at our founding congress, the objective of our fight is a different society: 21st century socialism!
To conclude, all this goes back to one question alone: can mass mobilisation win a break with capitalism? Could this break extend to a Europe-wide scale, given that the policies we propose could only truly be implemented on this scale? For now, the answer is a ‘no’, these ideas still being in the minority. Our ambition and our goal is to work to overturn this balance of forces. This is not only an economic question, but an ideological, social and political one. By definition, any idea of revolution is in the minority until it carries a majority. How many divisions were there for the Republic in 1788? But then…