Ramate Keita reports from Paris on the cracks in the NPA’s electoral left unity strategy
Next March will see regional elections in France. These will elect the “regional assemblies” which control the budgets for transport, education and welfare. In the 2004 regional elections the [neo-liberal social democrat] Parti Socialiste won Paris and the majority of regions. At that time there was a Trotskyist alliance of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire and Lutte Ouvrière which in spite of calls for a “pragmatic vote” secured one million votes. It was a pole for independent working-class politics.
In February we commented on the creation of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste. The LCR called for the formation of this party, and we said “that the stamp the leadership is making on the NPA is a dangerous ambiguity, marked by uncertainty and political and programmatic confusion, and more an electoralist project (with one eye fixed, in the immediate, on the coming European elections) than a tool for revolutionary class struggle”.
Now, in the middle of a capitalist crisis, when the traditional bourgeois parties are losing ever more legitimacy, when workers are fighting back and the vanguard of workers and students is looking for how to bring together these struggles, many leaders of the NPA believe that nothing can be done except look for allies to their right. Faced with the class struggle they cannot even call a simple solidarity demonstration. They say that they cannot make calls to action without the social democrats and what remains of the Parti Communiste.
They have spent the year trying to form an electoral front for the coming regional elections, following the model of Die Linke in Germany, a “left” social democratic party which drags a few Trotskyist groups along behind it.
To do this they have sought unity with the Parti de Gauche, led by Jean-Luc Melenchon (who recently left the neo-liberal Parti Socialiste) and other social democratic groups like les Alternatives and the Parti Communiste [which together constitute the Front de Gauche]. This unity broke down because there were no guarantees that in the end it would not lead to a deal with the Parti Socialiste – most likely in the second round of voting – which the NPA leadership is opposed to.
In August, when the holidays ended, social struggles and political activity also restarted. But the preoccupation of the national leadership was not to intervene in the struggle against the privatisation of post, nor the fight against redundancies and the defence of jobs.
The activity of the whole party was hanging on the discussions with these groups to the “left” of the Parti Socialiste. The leadership’s priority was not response to the numerous struggles, nor the drift of many activists away from the party, nor improving the party newspaper (whose articles have little relationship with the reality of those sectors in struggle).
The NPA leadership also made concessions to these groups in search of unity: in the electoral programme, “a ban on redundancies” was replaced with “change, to put an end to unemployment and lay-offs”; in place of a “demand for 300 euros a month increase in all salaries and a minimum wage of 1500 euros a month”, they accepted “defend purchasing power”; and also concessions on the retirement age, the expropriation of the banks, etc.
Electoral politics provoke a crisis in the party
In the national leadership’s text to the party congress it comments that “four months of debate have not allowed us to reach a national agreement. The political conditions imposed by the Front de Gauche, in which the Parti Communiste played a decisive role, are incompatible with the orientation of the NPA. Their objective was to set up electoral lists clearly in the perspective of managing regional government together with the Parti Socialiste and Europe Ecologie [Greens]. Clear enough, anti-neo-liberalism and neo-liberalism cannot co-exist. From this point of view, the Parti Communiste is being consistent: this is the continuation of its policy of 2004 when it participated in the regional executives in 16 regions, and today it votes through, as it did six years ago, for the 2010 regional budgets… Parti Communiste leaders are ramping up their hostile statements on the NPA, designed to undermine unity. Backed by the Parti de Gauche leaders, they are turning their back on any deal in spite of the political concessions we made.”
This means that there will be no unity with this famous Parti de Gauche and that all it wants is to achieve posts in government. But the NPA, with its arguments as not to appear “against unity” now also accepts participation in regional government “if the Parti Socialiste is not in the majority” and can keep the door open to co-management of bourgeois institutions, and do so with a party absolutely in the service of the bourgeoisie like the Parti Socialiste.
To put an end to the discussion on electoral “unity” the NPA organised a referendum where members could vote on three proposals.
– Platform A, the national leadership: there is no national agreement, but continue regional agreements.
– Platform B, to the left of the leadership: NPA lists independent of the social democrats and the Parti Communiste. A turn to workers’ and students struggles.
– Platform C, to the right of the others: alliance with social democrats at national level. In their eyes, they can go beyond the party programme to secure unity with anti-neo-liberal social-democrat groups. This includes the suggestion of “democratic fusion of lists in the second round of voting, as to defeat the right and present proportional lists”. This means unity with the Parti Socialiste and the neo-liberal greens of Europe Ecologie. It only excludes unity with MODEM (a right-wing centrist party), and the same for taking part in regional government.
The result was the division of the party into three roughly equal parts, none of them securing a majority. The Central Committee, however, voted 70% in favour of the leadership position.
Many comrades are unhappy that this situation has arisen. They think it will be very difficult to obtain strong electoral support, in part because unity with Lutte Ouvrière has been ruled out. But the state of class struggle is changing, with a spreading transport strike and growing discontent.
The NPA should use all its forces to help workers organise themselves; bring together the struggles for a general strike; for their trade union reps and activists to initiate “class struggle” currents against the bureaucracy of the union federations, the main obstacle to workers.
If there is an atmosphere of struggles, there will be radicalisation, and this will be reflected in election results. It is not by capitulating to the chief CGT union bureaucrat Thibault, and committing themselves to not forming class struggle opposition, that the NPA will show itself as a clear alternative for workers and the people.
Electorialism, struggle and union bureaucracy
It is no surprise that electoralism goes together with turning their back on class struggle and shaking hands with union bureaucrats.
The NPA press only dedicated a few lines to the formation, in November, of an opposition current in the CGT, the “Committee for a class struggle CGT”. At the meeting to establish this current, a few NPA activists were present, but the party leadership has not taken a clear position in support of the initiative.
This was no surprise given that in October a CGT delegation met with the NPA leadership. Getting on with the bureaucrats is a necessary condition of making electoral fronts with the political currents close to them. The NPA leaders assuaged the bureaucrats’ concerns, saying they “have no intention of substituting for the unions”, although any political organisation with a project has to give some opinion on demands to respond to bosses’ and governmental attacks. But, for the sake of getting along with the sell-out CGT bureaucracy, they assured them that “the NPA makes clear to the CGT that its fear of an NPA current being established in the CGT has no founding. The autonomy of unions in their defence of workers is natural for the NPA”, but a political organisation has every right to “pose the question” on its strategy for mobilising workers.
The NPA respects the “autonomy” of Thibault – the top bureaucrat of the CGT – to continue asphyxiating struggles and persecuting class struggle activists! They promise him that they will not lift a finger to initiate opposition currents. They will just sit cloud-gazing.
To the embarrassment of the NPA leaders, Thibault publicly demonstrated his satisfaction with the results of the meeting in [centre-right daily] Le Monde: “After our meeting with the NPA, there have been less statements from this party about the CGT”.