Monday, December 30, 2013

The NPA in crisis: We have to explain because we have to start again

Denis Godard
Originally published at International Viewpoint

Denis Godard is a member of Socialisme par en bas (SPEB) which is associated with the International Socialist Tendency (IST), SPEB joined the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire (LCR) some years before the creation of the NPA. It is of course part of the ongoing discussion within the NPA.
We will not dwell here on signs that the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA) is in crisis or on comparisons between the dynamics at its foundation with the current situation. The failure is so severe as to be undeniable. We failed. But the reasons that led us to create the NPA are still there. We have to understand why we failed, especially as we have to start again.

One of the hypotheses developed in this article is that the NPA is not born yet. But this does not mean that nothing has been done. Our experience has put us in a better position to understand the challenges we haven’t been able to meet. And this experience has also helped to change the situation in which we must now operate. To paraphrase Daniel Bensaïd: because we have tried, we have earned the right to start again. 

We are the failure

The temptation is always great to make our responsibilities seem less important because of external reasons, be they the period we’re in, or the creation of the Front de Gauche (FdG),1 [1] which has occupied part of our “space”.
These bad explanations must be cast aside.

The times we live in have seen no less than the start of a systemic crisis of capitalism, quantitatively the largest social revolt in France since 1968 (the movement for pensions), the Arab revolutions, the Indignados movement in Spain and Greece, the Occupy movement in the United States. How can you make such a period the reason for the failure2 [2] of an anti-capitalist party? The opposite is true: the inability of the NPA to show its usefulness in this period of crisis of the system and of mass revolts was the reason for its internal crisis. Movement setbacks and the progress of reactionary forces—first and foremost the fascists—do not invalidate this analysis, even though they can help change the situation in which we operate. In times of deep crisis for the system, the subjective element is crucial. The same conditions can benefit one side or the other, depending on their ability to take the initiative, to build appropriate responses…or depending on the paralysis of the opposite forces.

The months and years ahead will be explosive. This makes it all the more important to draw correct balance sheets.

Another “bad” explanation: the Parti de Gauche (PG) and the Front de Gauche. Was the space for the NPA suddenly occupied by these new political realities? It would probably be useful to clarify what is meant by space.3 [3]In any case, it is not an inert substance to be manipulated. We’re talking about conscious individuals who we believe will be the actors of their collective emancipation. The birth of the Parti de Gauche, followed by that of the FdG came slightly after that of the NPA. Here again the truth is the reverse: these forces benefited—at least in part—from the weakness of the NPA. The inability to build a “useful” force for tens of thousands of trade unionists, activists associations, neighbourhood youth, etc led some of them to cast their hopes on the FdG, at least for a time.4 [4]

Electoral crystallisations, just like organisational crystallisations are the non-mechanical product of processes of political polarisation, radicalisation and experimentation. These are still in progress. The current failure of the NPA is not the end of the story.

The “new” is not born yet

Be it limitation or opportunity, the merit of the initiative to found the NPA is that of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR), which remained the only organisation of significant size during the founding process and has played the role of propulsive force. This wasn’t necessarily an obstacle to the construction of a new party.5 [5] But it gave a central responsibility to activists from the LCR to “let go”.

Any structure, any organisation creates its own conservatism in ideas as well as in practice. This is what gives an organisation the stability needed to hold out in difficult times and to withstand the pressures of the dominant ideology. But this conservatism, which always involves dangers, becomes a real obstacle when the situation changes.

The decision by a majority of the LCR to initiate the creation of a new party was not necessarily a turn away from its struggles or from its ideas. But it meant that the LCR as a tool, as it had existed, was no longer adequate to the tasks of the period.

Unlike the old, the new is, by definition, not written. It develops, experiments, adapts, builds itself. To be new, to learn to be useful in a new period, the NPA could only be built through a continuous process, with initially limited structures, as flexible as possible, leaving plenty of room for new and emerging debates and all kinds of experiments.

However, the shape and the disagreements at the root of the current crisis of the NPA are clear: the crisis of the NPA looks just like a crisis of the LCR. Disagreements bear on issues that had been raging within the LCR for over a decade (alliances with other left forces and intervention in elections). All the tendencies which were formed and then separated come from the LCR: Gauche Unitaire, followed by Convergences et Alternatives and now Gauche Anticapitaliste (GA). All the tendencies since the birth of the NPA, built in ways that are inherited from the LCR, were led by former leaders of the LCR (with one small exception).

This simple observation shows us that the “old” has dominated the “new” party. The LCR only opened the doors to its house. Generously, no doubt. We turned the light on, we offered coffee. We even sometimes moved some furniture around. But it was the LCR’s house, the one the members of the LCR knew, and they knew how it worked. Others could only be guests. It turned out that that house was actually not suited to the tasks of the new period. 

Underestimating the novelty of the period

1) Just a space to occupy... But why was there resistance to change on the part of a majority of the LCR? It was not a case of bad faith. A large majority had voted for the creation of a new party. Many were excited by the beginning of the process. Why then? Mainly because the reasons given—within the LCR—for the need to build the NPA did not take into account the radically new character of the period. As a result, the awareness of the need to let the new express itself remained superficial. Looking in two directions is not an effective way of orienting oneself.

In the prevalent analysis of the LCR, the start of the new era was basically “the collapse of the USSR and of Eastern bloc countries combined with neoliberal capitalist globalisation”,6 [6] the end of a cycle started in 1917. The analysis was that the crisis of the Communist parties and the neoliberal evolution of the social democratic left opened up a space that had to be “occupied”. But through all this we stayed within the paradigm, frequently expressed in LCR, of “revolutionaries without a revolution”, that is to say “without immediate revolutionary perspectives”,7 [7]a strange though catchy phrase, by the bye.

What mattered mainly in the founding of the new party were therefore somewhat wider programmatic boundaries designed to attract some of the orphans of the traditional parties while remaining radical enough to maintain, for the future, revolutionary perspectives. The idea of programmatically opening up the LCR a little could only lead, for the majority of the members of the LCR, to opening up the LCR a little organisationally.

2) ...or a more radical change? In this analysis of the novelty of the period two elements remained marginal: the systemic crisis of capitalism and above all the return of mass struggles and of an anti-capitalist consciousness. The systemic crisis of capitalism means we are talking of a long-term new period of development of all the contradictions within the system. These can only be solved through a succession of political crises and large-scale confrontations.

Why is this important? It is through concrete experiences in the process of crisis and confrontation that our class (broadly defined) may, on a mass scale, acquire levels of consciousness and organisation making it suitable for a revolutionary transformation. And it is in the context of these experiences that various party political strategies will be tested. To take but one current example.8 [8] During the first few months after the fall of Mubarak in Egypt, the few who dared to criticise the army were completely marginalised on this issue. A year later their position on this point is more widely adopted and their audience has grown, especially among the youth.

The other factor is the return of mass struggles: the strikes of the winter of 1995 in France, the mass uprisings in Indonesia and South Korea, Seattle in 1999 and the emergence of a global movement, counter-summits and social forums, the global movement against the war in Iraq (to take examples preceding the launch of the NPA). In this dynamic process a global critique of the system has resurfaced—the consciousness, at least at an embryonic stage, that all struggles are linked by an overall logic, that the fight must be against a whole system. This is expressed in a stronger form still since the ideological hegemony of the neoliberal model has collapsed with the crisis. A generation of tens of thousands of activists has been in formation for the past 15 years or so on the basis of these experiments. 

From propaganda to strategy as the heart of the new party

There is therefore not a fixed space needing to be filled. Rather, radically different possibilities open up in the struggle for another society. What makes a new party both necessary and possible is the conjunction of a period which can set in motion millions of people with the emergence of tens of thousands of activists within various fronts of the movement, who are their practical leaders on a day to day basis.

Without them the hundreds of workplace confrontations each year would be impossible, as would be the more generalised movements, strikes and mass demonstrations (for pensions, against Jacques Chirac’s attempt to take back the rights of young workers, against the war…). Without them the heroic struggle of the undocumented, the mobilisation around Palestine, the struggle against nuclear power or local struggles such as those conducted against the airport at Notre Dame des Landes, the struggles in poor neighbourhoods, etc could not be maintained. This is the basis for the aim of a force that brings together and coordinates them, making it possible to develop a global strategy for the movement to victories and to give a perspective of collective liberation.

Revolutionary activists should, of course, play a role in this process. But this requires, on their part, a “cultural” revolution in order to be up to the task. They must break with ways of thinking and operating cultivated over decades of marginalisation of the extreme left, of being “revolutionaries without a revolution”. We must move from “the weapon of criticism” to the “criticism of weapons” and not underestimate the radical change this leads to, in practice as in theory.9 [9] We must stop confining ourselves to propagandism, to the cult of the “correct” programme, to the “general strike” mantra and to criticising traditional leaderships of the working class movement as the only possible orientation.

We have failed to make this cultural revolution: moving from propaganda from outside the movement to elaborating a strategy from within the movement. This requires not only an awareness of the issues but also leaning on the thousands of activists in the movement in order to begin to create a new revolutionary culture, gradually developing on the basis of our shared experiences and on the achievements of the revolutionary tradition. It requires a strategy capable of bringing along the whole movement, which would pose anew the major debates and reformulate the project for emancipation. 

The party remained external to the concerns of activists

1) A party for struggles ... or for elections? Despite what was announced, the NPA was never conceived as a party for struggle, a party of the movement. Following on from Olivier Besancenot’s performance at the polls, it has worked primarily as an electoral outlet. Let us remember that the foundation of the NPA was rushed in order to present candidates for the European elections, as the first nationwide public action for the new party.

There followed many debates and incessant (and unresolved!) strife on electoral tactics while resources were invested primarily in national election campaigns, but few discussions on union work, building an anti-racist movement, a movement against debt, the defence of public services, concrete solidarity with the Arab revolutions. How many debates and exchanges of experiences on the development of struggles in local areas? How much was put into the building, by the whole party, of the Copenhagen, Strasbourg or Frankfurt counter-summits, the march of the undocumented, the collectives against debt, etc? Not to mention topics such as police brutality or the Front National, or new ways of mobilising and organising.

2) Politics outside the movement: This orientation is rooted in a theory of the autonomy of social movements not challenged and not discussed at the foundation of the NPA. In the new period this theory has become the theory of the depoliticisation of the movement.

With the downturn in the 1980s, and the predominance of defensive struggles against neoliberal capitalist restructuring, it was much more difficult concretely to experience the emancipatory potentialities of the movement. This opened the way for a division between the field of “social” struggles and the field of the “political” fight. This separation was sanctioned by the appearance of the phrase “social movement”, as an umbrella term for struggles and groupings, as opposed to the political field defined narrowly as the confrontation between parties, mainly on the electoral terrain.

This affected the LCR, which defended “the autonomy of social movements”. To understand how such a conception could develop, it should be added that it was nurtured and encouraged by a fundamentally sound critique of the tradition developed by the traditional parties (first and foremost the Communist Party) of using the trade union movement or other groupings for their own benefit—meaning that these organisations instead of being actors of emancipation became tools for party strategies.

In the name of this conception, LCR activists increasingly intervened in movements as individuals. Sometimes they played a key role and brought with them their general conceptions. But there was less discussion of strategy within the party, and less collective testing. Gradually the consequences became profound for the functioning of the party itself: a separation arose between those most involved in the movement and those working within the party. The leadership became less subject to the pressure of the movement, the questions it raises and the need for strategic development it imposes. Conversely it reinforced the “pragmatic” bent for activists becoming heavily involved in specific, mainly defensive movements.

Last but not least: with the decrease in discussions on the issues raised by the movement, the party’s intervention became dominated by programmatic delimitations with other parties. This led to an increasingly central place being given to elections.

3) Politics in the movement: The NPA was born out of the development of mass movements, yet this conception has in fact continued to dominate its orientation and its practice. It does not meet the needs of movements constantly confronted with the question of the overall logic of the system, nor does it convince activists, who are brought outside of their place of intervention.

The autonomy of the movement is a fine thing, but it needs to be thought through: the movement transforms society, not elected individuals or political parties. In other words: the revolutionary transformation of society can only be the work of the majority of the movement of the oppressed and exploited.

This does not mean autonomy of the movement vis-à-vis politics but that the movement itself evolves and becomes political. Political in the sense that it becomes the alternative,10 [10] that it struggles for power, not aiming to replace those who are at the head of existing institutions with its own representatives, but in order to replace existing institutions with its own collective forms of power—and that it starts to build them in today’s struggles.

This does not mean that the movement must stay away from political parties but it means they must prove the validity of what they stand for within the movement itself—it also means they can only prove this through understanding and respecting the rhythms of the movement and through developing a useful strategy for the movement.

It follows that a revolutionary strategy is a strategy that shows how the movement can become political, through all the experiences of the class struggle on all fronts (including elections)—rather than one which theorises the separation between the social movement and the political movement.

It follows that the party cannot invent this strategy from outside. It should first aim to promote the generalisation of experiences and dynamics from the movement itself: just look how examples as diverse as the Indignados, Occupy, the Arab revolutions, workplace occupations, “Can’t pay, won’t pay” movements pose—at least in embryonic form—the question of another power, of a real democracy. They also are—more positively—the expression of the distrust that exists toward institutions as expressed also by low voter turnout, the rejection of the mainstream media or riots where what is identified with the “institutions of society” gets broken. 

Unmoving conceptions externally imposed

1) “Our response to the crisis”: a strategic discussion aborted: The dominant conception in the NPA is that the “correct” programme (and the correct demands) can be brought to the movement from without by the party. Hence the emphasis on elections as a way to address a mass audience. Hence the emphasis on programmatic delimitations in order to differentiate between true anti-capitalists and “treacherous” leaders.

If a programme is necessary it should be a programme that combines goals and the means of achieving them, a guide to action. It cannot be a “perfect”, fixed programme, born in the mind of a few revolutionaries; it must be modified by experiences and developments. The elaboration of such a programme is therefore inseparable from the development of the movement itself and of debates on the experiences and issues raised. From this point of view, probably nothing is more indicative of the failure of the NPA than the text “Our response to the crisis”, adopted at the first congress in 2009.11 [11]

This text could have opened up a debate on what an anti-capitalist strategy in a period of deep crisis and mass struggles would look like. Yet the discussion was confined to the contents of a programme, a list of demands, which some found not radical enough and others too radical, everyone being obsessed with what boundaries to establish or not to establish with the Front de Gauche.

Let’s be clear, the more or less implicit reference for many comrades in this debate was the transitional programme advocated by Trotsky in 1938.12 [12] We will not discuss here the validity of the reference. What is striking, however, when we take the transitional programme as it was defended by Trotsky is that it has an element of an action programme, each demand being combined with a suitable organisational form: strengthening trade unions and struggling within them and factory committees for the opening of account ledgers and workers’ control, pickets and workers’ militia for the arming of the proletariat, councils grouping factory committees and neighbourhood organisations on a geographical basis for the workers’ and peasants’ government.

This articulation of demands with specific forms of organisation of the movement is exactly what is missing in “Our response to the crisis”. We discussed demands, but it proved impossible to move on to a discussion on the ways in which these demands could be carried out by the movement.

2) No need for concrete analysis? The lack of strategic concern leads to a lack of concern in the analysis of concrete reality. This has led to the lack of analysis of a long cycle of evolution (and recomposition) of the capitalist organisation of production, the destructuration of the traditional working class and the reconstruction of a new class composition. Yet it is also the reconfiguration of the reality of our class which has put in crisis the traditional organisations of the labour movement. Is there a specific revolutionary subject? Should we still think in terms of strategic productive sectors?

Assuming that we should, are they the same as 20 or 30 years ago? Should we think in terms of organising struggling workers by occupation, by trade or by location? Don’t the development of migration and the feminisation of labour alter the relationship between struggles against discrimination and struggles in workplaces? Don’t the fragmentation of production units and contracts, the development of precariousness and the growth in service jobs lead to a change in the role and in the methods of struggle in inner-city areas? These discussions—but we could cite others—were absent in the construction of the NPA, not to mention the changing face of the state or of imperialism, the role of the media, of social networks.

A new workers’ movement capable of developing strategies and organisational forms that correspond to the new realities of class composition must be rebuilt. This should be combined with resistance to restructuring in the old sectors where the old organisations remain the best established. The articulation should be put in these terms rather than in the choice between reconstruction and recomposition. 

Is one born a revolutionary, or does one become one?

A party cannot develop a strategy if its members are not involved in the movement in different ways. This also works in reverse: it is through discussions necessary for elaboration and through tests made within the movement that a “new” revolutionary consciousness may be forged among the collective members of the party, and that previous ideas may be modified, enriched and criticised.

This requires a break with the idea of a ready-made revolutionary theory created by the leaders of party tendencies, and with its mirror image: a misconception of reformism as a simple “mind manipulation”. The influence of reformism cannot be reduced to the “treacherous” leaders betraying addled masses to whom the truth must be revealed.

Reformism is the product of a contradictory consciousness reflecting a contradictory experience. On the one hand the experience of domination (exploitation and oppression) and competition that promotes feelings of powerlessness and makes the idea that only elected officials can improve things seem sensible. On the other hand, the experience of resistance to this domination, which not only tears individualism apart, and recreates solidarity, but which also puts in question the power of the boss and the neutrality of the state.

This means that reformism cannot be fought only in terms of ideology (with propaganda). The return of mass struggles and the experiences and failures of those involved in them are the basis for changes in mass consciousness. But we need to understand this change as a process. There is no binary switch at an individual or collective level in the evolution of consciousness from reformism to revolutionary politics.

Fighting against the influence of reformism and developing a revolutionary consciousness are tied together. They cannot be advanced through proclamations but through practical demonstrations to promote all experiences demonstrating practically the collective strength we have and the superiority of a strategy based on it compared with institutional strategies. 

Tinkering is not enough; we must rebuild

1) Still possible...and still necessary: The task of building is still before us. The audience won by the Front de Gauche has shown the availability of hundreds of thousands of young people and workers for a political and radical perspective. The Front de Gauche is caught as in the straitjacket of a cartel of organisations whose main objective is not self-organisation and the development of counter-powers—but an institutional perspective. It therefore cannot be the basis for the force we need to build. Struggles go on outside these organisations in the youth, in the banlieues, often in a fragmented manner.

The nature of the times makes the construction of an anti-capitalist force not just possible; it makes it more necessary than ever. Without the coordination of movement activists and the progressive development of an anti-capitalist strategy, victories become increasingly difficult to gain for specific struggles, as demonstrated by the movement on pensions, the anti-racist struggle or the anti-war movement.

During the movement over pensions the strategy of union leaders imposed itself by default. This is because there was not a force bringing together tens of thousands of radical unionists with the respect of their workmates in all sectors and regions, arising from the development of combative local unions or rank and file committees, linked to the majority of young people in high schools and colleges, able to organise local support. Such a force could have proposed an alternative strategy to that of the union leaders through generalising from the best experiences.

In other words, victories, even partial victories, require that strategies of confrontation with the logic of the system be proposed widely to the movement and that forms of grassroots organisation and counter-powers be developed. Such a force is also made necessary by the general tendency of the capitalist system. Without a perspective of global transformation and emancipation, reactionary “solutions” will have the upper hand. Therefore, we must try again.

2) Rebuilding, saying it and doing it: We should not be ashamed of our failure. We all have the merit of having tried. But failure it is that has demoralised thousands of activists and developed scepticism more widely still. We must therefore say publicly that we have failed; it is a necessary condition if we want to be trusted in our desire to try again. We also need to say that we do not want to patch up what didn’t work, but that we are calling for a radical overhaul of the NPA. These conditions are necessary but not sufficient. We are not asking to be believed on trust. We’ll be judged by our actions. And this cannot be postponed.

3) Where to start? Proclaiming a different mode of operation or a different programme will not create a new party. Departures have left the structures of the party in a fragile state, from local committees to national structures (commissions, press, national leadership bodies…). We should “take advantage” of the situation to restart a process of foundation on the basis of the local committees—national structures can simply, at least for the time being, “manage” current affairs.

Committees for a real refoundation should be autonomous—regarding their local involvement, mode of operation, the organisation of their debates—and coordinated for national campaigns on which they agree and for debates relating to the rebuilding of the party. These committees should be completely open to the outside, encouraging the participation of movement activists, even if they do not join the party. At all levels we should encourage discussions between activists of other parties of the radical left.

At least during a transition period, the newspaper could serve primarily as a liaison organ between the committees: reports of experiences made by the committees, announcements of protests, meetings, events, contributions to the debate, etc.

The cornerstone of this process should be involvement in the movement and the development of our strategy as a basis for an exchange of experiences and as a basis for discussions, including theoretical debates. From this point of view, the development of campaigns against austerity and public debt—related to the refusal of redundancy plans and to international solidarity—and the fight against the development of racism and the extreme right should be dominant axes for our activities.


Nothing would be worse than making the forthcoming NPA congress a sham. The process leading to this congress must be a part of the wider process of rebuilding: not limited to internal debate but encouraging open discussion with the outside on all subjects and at all levels, starting work on our strategy and our functioning without excluding more theoretical debates (the dynamics of capital/labour, movement/institutions, oppression/exploitation).

This process will be a live one if it takes as a basis action within the movements, experiments made by the various committees, and if it does not claim to solve in advance discussions that must remain open.

In this sense the preparation for this congress should be seen as a refounding process on the basis of contributions going back and forth between committees rather than platforms made “at the top”, on which party members should position themselves. The congress itself should be thought of not as an end (of the process) but as a step on the way: the party itself should be conceived of as a process-party, an experimental party.

Finally, at this conference the youth must be put back at the heart of the party, of its committees, of its experiences, of its debates, and not as something separate, but as central to its activity, and even as a driving force. This is also a prerequisite for building a party for the future, a movement party, a new anti-capitalist party.


Adam, Hélène, Daniel Bensaïd, François Coustal, Léon Crémieux, Jacqueline Guillotin, Samuel Johsua, Alain Krivine, Olivier Martin, Christine Poupin, Pierre Rousset, François Sabado, Roseline Vachetta, 2009, “De la LCR au NPA”.
Godard, Denis, 2009, “The NPA: a Space for Rebuilding”, International Socialism 123 (Summer 2009).

Godard, Denis, 2011 “Qu’est-ce qu’on veut : Tout!” Que faire? 8 (second series).

Johsua, Samy, 2006, “Mélanges Stratégiques”, Que faire? 5 (1st series),.

Marx, Karl, 1975, Early Writings (Penguin).

NPA, 2011, “Nos Réponses à la Crise”.

Sitel, Francis, 2008, “Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste, Espoirs et Pièges” in Critique Communiste, 187 (June).

Trotsky, Leon, 1938, The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International.

This English translation was published by International Socialist Journal in Issue: 137, Posted: 9 January 13. 


[1] The Front de Gauche is the coalition formed in 2009 between the French Communist Party and the newly-formed Parti de Gauche, the latter being in the main a left split from the social democratic Parti Socialiste. Other smaller groups have also joined the Front de Gauche. This article was translated by Sylvestre Jaffard. It originally appeared in French in Que Faire? number 10, August-October 2012.

[2] True, events of such magnitude can unleash internal crises. Their novelty and their importance should, in any organisation worthy of the name, spark many discussions in order to analyse them and to develop responses. It is indeed through this kind of debate and through attempts to intervene effectively that a new party can be forged. Alas, everyone will agree that this hasn’t been the NPA’s problem. We are therefore talking here about a failure.

[3] For further developments on this question of the “space to be occupied”, see my answer to a debate between Alex Callinicos and François Sabado at the foundation of the NPA-Godard, 2009. But the answer itself is dated and shows what the experience of the NPA has brought along, despite its failure: it remains well below a proper awareness. of the changes to be made in our approach. See the following theses.

[4] To put it clearly, the FdG has seized the zeitgeist better than the NPA, at least when it comes to elections. Mélenchon’s radical speeches call for a “participatory” campaign, the use of such modes of mobilisation as the occupation of public squares. Yet, and this will be a problem for comrades who join the FdG, its ability to “capitalise” on its voting base is still largely unproven. I tend to think there are too many obstacles for this: the strength of the Communist Party, which will oppose a “common house”, the focus on institutions, the tensions between the forces.

[5] See Sitel, 2008. For Francis Sitel, who knew the organisation well, creating a new party with just the LCR as an organised force was dangerous. Many of his arguments are interesting. The problem is that we do not start from what we wish we had, but from what exists. On this basis, we must find solutions. Otherwise we look for shortcuts. Francis Sitel left the NPA at its very beginning, with the Gauche Unitaire, LCR activists who instead rallied to the Front de Gauche. This grouping probably earned more positions by joining the FdG early on. But its political evolution is such that the Gauche Anticapitaliste often forgets to mention it among the currents that could form an anti-capitalist pole within the FdG. Should this be a warning for the GA, which broke away in June 2012?

[6] Adam and others, 2009.

[7] Johsua, 2006. Johsua notably concludes: “Outside a revolutionary period, it is impossible to have a mass popular party (or something approaching) without an institutional basis.”

[8] All the revolutionary processes of history are fascinating to study from this point of view, from 1848 France to the 1974 revolution in Portugal, the Russian Revolution of 1917 or the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Failures are more linked to the inability of the revolutionary process to have parties up to the task than to lack of determination and radicality of the movements. It is true that in the historical analysis it is easier to deduce that the “masses” are lacking in this or that. This is a prime trick for evading responsibilities. The other is to blame the “treacherous” leaders of the class. Comfortable, certainly…but not very useful in strategic terms.

[9] See Marx, 1975, p251.

[10] About what is meant by political movement see Godard, 2011.

[11] NPA, 2011.

[12] Trotsky, 1938.


Friday, November 29, 2013

France: As National Front support grows, strategy struggle erupts in Left Front

By Dick Nichols

November 6, 2013
October was a month of sharp shifts in French politics. On October 4, a poll in the French weekly Nouvel Observateur showed the xenophobic and racist National Front (FN) of Marine Le Pen leading voting intentions for the 2014 European elections with the support of 24% of those interviewed—up 3% in six months.

On October 13, in the second round of the by-election for the canton of Brignoles (in the Mediterranean department of Var), the FN easily defeated the mainstream conservative Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), by 53.9% to 46.1%. Until 2011 Brignoles had had a Communist Party (PCF) mayor, but in this election the main left candidate, with a PCF background and supported by the Socialist Party, could only manage 14.6% in the first round.

On October 19, a BVA poll revealed that 65% of those interviewed thought that Rom school girl Léonarda Dibrani—taken off a school excursion bus by police on October 9 and deported with her family to Albania—should not be allowed to return to France. That poll result became public even as thousands of school students and their supporters flooded central Paris for three days to protest Léonarda’s expulsion.

On October 20, when President François Hollande of the Socialist Party (PS) (down to 23% in the latest polls) appeared on national television to offer Léonarda right of return to France without her family, he simply made matters worse for himself. “With her mother and sisters”, insisted PS secretary Harlem Desir. This difference between government and party didn’t matter for long. From Albania the 15-year-old Léonarda told Hollande where he could put his offer.

As Hollande’s authority nosedives even with PS faithful, that of interior minister Manuel Valls, the “hard man” stuck with the thankless job of expelling “illegals”, keeps rising. An October 24 Figaro poll had Valls as preferred president after the next election (2017), at 33% to Hollande’s 9%.

The rise of the FN at the expense of the UMP and PS has been deepening divisions within all main political trends. UMP leaders and candidates have been trying to beat Le Pen at her own game of race hatred and exclusionary nationalism while ministers within the ruling Socialist Party (PS) government have been at loggerheads over the treatment of Léonarda.

Left Front alliance debates

Within the opposition Left Front (Front de Gauche) a debate has opened up over how to orient to the rightward-moving PS. This debate is also being driven by the failure of the Left Front to make any major gains in by-elections held since the May-June 2012 presidential and National Assembly elections.

Most importantly, between October 17 and 19, Paris region members of the Communist Party (PCF), the main force along with the Left Party (Parti de Gauche) in the nine-party Left Front, voted to maintain their party’s present alliance with the PS in the Paris council for the March 2014 municipal elections in France.

This decision, taken by 57% to 43%, represented a break with the strategic line of the Left Front. This is to have Left Front tickets in all towns with over 20,000 inhabitants and to support the inclusion of other left forces on these tickets only if they take a clear stand against the austerity policies of the national PS government of Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

(In municipal elections, the two-round French voting system allows the Left Front to stand in its own name in the first round, while supporting PS candidates against right-wing tickets in the second round if its own vote is less than 10%. If the Left Front vote is more than 10% it is free to withdraw, stand again, or seek to negotiate a joint ticket with other forces.)

The PCF’s Paris decision was possible because the party’s national leadership had earlier decided that the alliance policy for the 2014 municipal elections would be decided by local membership vote. Yet the Paris decision, supported by national secretary Pierre Laurent, has been causing angst among Left Front supporters, opening the most serious crisis in its four-year history. It has also opened sharp conflicts within the PCF itself.

The reaction from the Left Party leadership was one of outrage. Left Party national secretary and deputy mayor of Paris’s 12th arrondissement (ward) Alexis Corbière asked: “Now that the young people have risen up against the inhuman consequences of the policies of Manuel Valls, how is it possible to be on a common ticket with his friends in Paris?”

Paris is not France

Will the Paris region PCF vote remain an exception, or does it prefigure a return to the pre-Left Front norm of PCF-PS alliances, especially where these have run major towns?

While many PCF town branches have still to vote on their approach, decisions to date indicate that the Paris decision may well turn out to be more exception than rule. On October 25, L’Humanité carried the news that PCF members in Lyon, France’s second largest city, had voted 52.9% in favour of a Left Front ticket for the municipal poll, rejecting a deal over program and seats similar to that accepted in Paris.

According to an October 27 L’Humanité article by Left Party national secretary Eric Coquerel, in “nearly three-quarters of the towns with 100,000 inhabitants” local PCF ballots had supported the option of a Left Front alliance.

At the time of writing (November 5), PCF members’ decisions in towns of more than 100,000 inhabitants was as shown in Table 1.

Table 1. PCF decisions on alliances for 2014 French municipal elections
(towns over 100,000, at November 5, 2013)

Inhabitants (2010)
Decision or likely decision
A.   Towns with existing SP- or Greens (EELV)-led majority (in many cases including PCF councilors)
With PS
With Left Front
Undecided, but leadership has rejected Left Front. Decision on November 16
Pays de la Loire
To be decided, with leadership favouring PS
With Left Front
With Left Front
To be decided
To be decided, with leadership favouring PS
Still to be decided. Council group leader leaning towards the PS.
Local leadership leaning towards PS
With Left Front
Pays de la Loire
Leadership proposal for alliance with PS. To be voted November 6
With Left Front
With PS
Le Mans
Pays de la Loire
With Left Front
With Left Front
With PS
Still to be decided. Proposal to go to citizens meeting, November 7
With Left Front
With PS
With Left Front
With PS
Lower Normandy
To be decided
Upper Normandy
With Left Front
Île de France
With Left Front
Île de France
With Left Front
Île de France
Left Front supporting PCF mayoralty
B.   Towns with existing right-wing majority
Provence-Alpes-Côtes d’Azur
With Left Front
Provence-Alpes-Côtes d’Azur
With Left Front
With Left Front
Le Havre
Upper Normandy
With Left Front
Provence-Alpes-Côtes d’Azur
With Left Front
With Left Front
Provence-Alpes-Côtes d’Azur
With Left Front
With PS
With Left Front
With Left Front
Île de France
Not yet decided
Not yet decided

Sources: Regional French media, regional PCF and Left Party web sites, L’Humanité, Libération, Le Monde, blog Politiquemania, web site

The vote to date has exposed the tensions between the recommendations of local PCF leaderships and the sentiment of many PCF members, who place more value on the political potential of the Left Front than on maintaining the PCF’s present council representation.

(The PCF has 1709 council seats in metropolitan France, and 1857 when the “overseas territories and departments” such as Tahiti are included. There are 88,298 council positions in France and its “overseas possessions”.)

To date membership votes overturning leadership recommendations have taken place in Lyon, Montpellier, Le Mans and Évry. Lead PCF candidate for Lyon, Aline Guitard, explained the vote like this: “The members judged that what was being proposed with the PS didn’t allow a stronger fight against austerity.”

In response to that decision, according to the October 30 Le Monde, eight local PCF councilors denounced the “vote of split”, threatening not to take part in a “reductionist” ticket. In Le Mans, outgoing PCF councilors said they would continue to negotiate with the PS majority.

In other centres, like Perpignan, the threat of a victory of the right or far-right (FN) convinced members that a first round alliance with the PS was a political necessity. According to lead candidate Philippe Galano: “It’s reckless to say that the forces of the left, if disunited in the first round, could compete with the UMP and the FN in the second.”

In the light of these trends an interesting question is whether the Paris line would have carried if there had been a single national ballot of the whole PCF membership.

PS—best builder of the FN

How are all these dramatic developments related? The underlying issues are how to reverse support for the FN and how to orient to the PS when rapidly deepening disillusionment with the Hollande presidency—elected 18 months ago for its promise of “Change, Now!”—is what has most fed the growth in FN support.

Le Pen’s outfit is seen by increasing numbers of angry people in France as the one party untainted by connections with the political establishment and with an understandable message.

Nonetheless, for sociologist Eric Fassin, writing in the October 24 Le Monde, the rise in FN influence “refutes the hypothesis of a rightward shift in society--cultural or economic”. Rather the FN is gaining a hearing because of the growing desperation of people ground down by austerity, because of the persistent, 30-year-long retreat of the official “parties of government” before the FN message, and because the alternative left message isn’t yet audible or believable enough.

The FN’s “discourse” evokes a mythical French paradise lost that flourished before the arrival of globalisation, the European Union and the euro currency; when the country had its franc, there was discipline in the classroom, respect in the family and order in the suburbs, and the necks of serious criminals met the guillotine.

That belle époque—destroyed by one-parent families, homosexuality and homosexual marriage, lax immigration laws and oppressive political correctness—can be restored by a sane and healthy “people” led by the FN rising up against the “politicians” and their parties.

Over the years the reaction of the governing elites has been to sneer and pretend outrage at this message, while combing through the concrete issues on which to make the concessions that could hopefully steal away some of the FN’s support base.

Predictably, the area where FN policy has most passed into the mainstream is that of migrants’ and refugees’ rights. French policy is among the most restrictive and discriminatory in Europe.

The long-run political effect of this combination of empty moralising and concrete concessions to the FN’s racist policies has been to add to the political authority of the FN as the party that has been doggedly putting its finger on French society’s “real problems” for decades.

Now, UMP candidates openly compete with the FN in racist vileness while the media feel no shame in pillorying entire communities such as the Rom.

The events of October produced a speed-up in this syndrome, a race to the bottom between the UMP and PS over migrants’ and refugees’ rights. On October 24, UMP leader Jean-François Copé proposed that the right to French citizenship of children born to migrants be repealed—a 25-year-old demand of the FN—and that free medical service for “illegals” be confined to emergency situations.

One day later, minister Valls announced that he would produce a “reform” of the system of political asylum by mid-November.

To complete the pantomime, PS national secretary Desir (once leader of the powerful campaign movement SOS Racisme!) declared: “I say the FN is a party of the extreme right!”

As for Leonarda Dibrani, the saturation message from the mainstream commercial media was that she had it coming. What could you expect from someone whose father was a classic “gypsy bad dad”—happy to live on social security payments, showing no sign of looking for work or interest in jobs offered him, not sure whether his kids are at school, and with three different versions of why he couldn’t produce an identity card?

Debates in the Left Front

Such is the atmosphere in which the Left Front has been battling to get its anti-capitalist message through to people drawn to FN simplicities. It helps explain why the strategy debate within the Left Front, centred on where and how to look for the broader alliances that will win it hegemony over the PS and enable the Left Front to be seen as an alternative for government, has become so sharp.

In an October 21 blog comment, Mélenchon summarised his view of the situation facing the organisation after the Paris PCF decision: “At the level of Paris, the situation is simpler than it appeared—the Left Front continues with [lead candidate] Danielle Simonnet. There will be a pluralist ticket for the municipal elections, hundreds of activists and sympathisers will get involved among whom no doubt there will be a considerable number of communists.

“But at the national level, the situation is much more complicated. The loss of visibility is terrible for us. It helps the extreme rights present itself as the only alternative to the system.”

In the October 16 L’Humanité, before the PCF Paris vote began, the Left Front leader had insisted: “We are not in a logic of wheeling and dealing, but of political and ideological conquest. For us the local and the national are the same reality.”

Asked about local tickets between the Left Party and the Greens, he contrasted these with what the PCF was proposing for Paris: “The line is to bring together everything we can against austerity and for solidarity rather than curling up on the old turf of alliance with the ‘Solferians’, who repel anything that moves or fights in the country… I am opposed to the unilateral surrender of our forces for the sake of a single town.”

The PCF leadership viewpoint previously had come in an interview in the October 14 Le Parisien where Pierre Laurent said: “It’s not a question of allying with the people who are carrying out the government’s choices, but of creating on the ground a coalition of men and women of the left who don’t identify with this austerity policy. These voters, who could come from the ranks of the socialists or ecologists, have the feeling of being trapped. It’s not the time to shut ourselves off in our own domain, but to extend them a hand.”

Concretising the PCF perspective at the September L’Humanité Fair, Laurent had said: “To build 500,000 extra public housing units, to open health centres, to build new systems of public transport, to create new networks of solidarity where communities are being torn apart, for my part I am ready to take part in the broadest coalitions of the left if that is in the interest of the people.”

As for the future of the Left Front, thrown into doubt by this conflict between its two main affiliate organisations, Laurent said: “I fight with all my strength against the idea that a difference of assessment over the municipal elections opens a crisis in the Left Front. We need the Left Front for today and for the future. So let’s stop polemicising, dramatising, and caricaturing each other’s positions.”

An October 21 statement by the PCF leadership, called “A Big Ambition for the Left Front”, proposed that the front adopt four campaigns in order to revitalise its work and draw in broader forces. These are an exposure campaign around the cost of capital; a campaign for fiscal justice; a campaign around the need for new solidarity- and democracy-based foundations for Europe; and a campaign for a Sixth French Republic.

Mélenchon has not been so sanguine. Describing the PCF Paris choice as “strategically incompatible” with the Left Front’s approach, the PG leader was appearing to signal a struggle against “a small minority, yes prestigious and well placed, that has abandoned us” even while “the unitary dynamic of the Left Front remains overwhelmingly in the majority in the rest of the country”.

Mélenchon also reminded readers of L’Humanité that the PS, while making endless calls for the “unity of the left”, was conducting a sectarian crusade against Communist and Green mayors, especially in the Paris “red belt” around Seine-Saint-Denis, Argenteuil and Saint Denis.

In an October 26 article on his blog titled “For whom tolls the bell?”, the Left Party leader reflected on the impact of the of the PCF Paris decision and on Pierre Laurent’s possible motives for conducting negotiations with the PS without informing other Left Front organisations.

“A lot of my friends are flabbergasted and bewildered. All are struggling to work out what has happened. How could Pierre Laurent lie to us for months while he was selling the Eiffel Tower to [PS lead candidate and Paris deputy mayor] Anne Hidalgo?

“With what criteria and what collective goal? If alliance with the Socialists is his collective goal, why not trade off Paris for peace in towns with communist leaderships, under attack from the Socialists in the municipal elections? Why did he get personally engaged to the point of pushing for a national dramatisation of the stakes involved? Why such brutal arm-twisting of local communist leaderships? On [national TV station] France 3 we saw a communist elector say he was voting for the alliance with the socialists ‘under compulsion and duress’!

“All that merely, as the press says, to save the senator’s seat that he has been occupying since the departure of Senator [former PCF senator Nicole] Cohen-Seat?[i] A lot of people around me couldn’t believe it. There must be another factor. Maybe a psychological one? A pressure which, for the moment, we don’t know about.

However, for Mélenchon the important issue was not to reflect on Laurent’s psychology, but to grasp the political ramifications of the PS-PCF deal.

“For the moments the goal of the ‘Solferians’ has been achieved. In Paris, disarray is total. Among the communists, hundreds of members are demoralised. But our people have also taken a big hit. Campaigning without the communists was really not what they wanted. But that the communists will be forced to campaign against them, that’s really depressing…

“At a national level the leaks in the commanding vessel can be seen from afar. The general staff has been decapitated: how can you hold campaign coordinating meetings with people who are active on opposing tickets? Moreover, our public message gets distorted: all our interviews are taken up with explanations concerning ‘the end of the Left Front’, demanded with gluttonous jubilation. And what is certain is that this is just a foretaste of what awaits us in the local elections.”

The Paris agreement

The strength of the shock to PCF ranks is reflected in this resignation letter of Maeva Nicotra, the branch secretary in the 15th arrondissement, after the Paris decision in favour of joining PS lists.

I am a revolutionary Left Front militant, committed to implementing [ìts program] Above All, the Human and to the Sixth Republic.

“Given such irreconcilable differences, there is no way I can continue to lead the branch.

I can’t on the one hand condemn the PS’s machinations and on the other support it in its campaign, even at the municipal level.

“If I had wanted to be a social democrat I would have directly joined the PS.

I respect the decision of the majority, but cannot in any case renounce my ideals.”

Part of the reaction of the Paris PCF leadership to this sort of response has been to insist that the PS’s Paris administration has not been applying austerity.

In an October 21 interview in Líberation, Ian Brossat, PCF lead candidate for Paris, said: “The policy carried out in Paris is not one of austerity. The level of public investment has more than doubled since 2001. The policy carried out in Paris is not that implemented by the government. That’s why the majority of communists have judged that convergence is possible in the capital but not nationally.”

The programmatic agreement for the 163-seat central Paris council assigns the PCF 13 councillors in electable positions (up from eight) and as well as 32 councillors in electable positions in the city’s 20 arrondissement councils (364 seats in all).

The agreement commits the two parties to:

  • Increase the rate of social housing construction so that by 2030 30% of all housing is social housing (proposal of PCF—the present level is 17.4%);

  • Create 5000 new childcare places;

  • Create a network of direct food distribution allowing cheaper prices to consumers and higher returns to producers (proposal of PCF);

  • Guarantee a minimum supply of free water per household (proposal of PCF);

  • Develop community health centres, especially in the poorer suburbs and oppose the closure of the emergency department at the Hôtel Dieu, Paris’s oldest hospital;

  • Improve cleaning services and keep those that are still public in council hands;

  • Follow the example of the PCF-run council in Seine-St Denis in providing extended support services to domestic violence victims and their children, as well as boosting education around the extent of violence suffered by women;
  • Create mechanisms for greater social participation, including a participatory budget structure;
  • Reject “all austerity policy” and refuse to accept financial arrangements with the state that would prejudice the ability of the council to carry out the undertakings on which it was elected.

  • End the freeze on hiring of council staff (proposal of PCF).

In an October 14 opinion piece on the Mediapart web site (“A Cheap Agreement with a Heavy Political Price”), Alexis Corbière commented that the 30% social housing target was nothing more than that stipulated by law and one whose implementation was impossible to guarantee, given the distant target date. In addition, the PCF-PS deal contained no commitment to return privatised cleaning services to council ownership, its childcare places target fell well short of need and it had abandoned the Left Front demand for the €1.6 billion owed to Paris by the state for services provided be paid.

As for the undertaking of “no austerity in Paris”, how could that be guaranteed when seven PS Paris councillors were also MPs who had voted for the €75 billion austerity package of Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault? “Can they oppose, in the Town Hall, the measures they support in the Borbon Palace [seat of the National Assembly]?”

On October 24, seven Left Front affiliates announced the main points of the front’s Paris campaign, led by Danielle Simonnet. If focusses on rent controls and prohibition of evictions, requisitioning of unoccupied housing, priority to social housing, re-establishing council ownership of privatised services, increased extracurricular activity for school children, as well as reforms to the health system, an extensive program of housing insulation and free public transport—all to be financed by greater use of taxes on capital.

Their statement said: “Paris is a rich city (with a budget of more than €7 billion) which has the means of financing an ambitious solidarity-based anti-crisis program, at the local and metropolitan level.”

The statement ended: “We want to make Paris the capital of resistance to austerity, of struggle against real-estate speculation, of eradication of casual work, of promotion of new forms of solidarity, of implementation of real equality of rights, of an ambitious collective urban development process, of international cooperation with the South, and of a democracy that serves citizen participation and allows Parisians to take back their town!”

PCF differences elsewhere

The internal PCF discussion has also been sharp outside Paris, such as the department of Hérault and its capital, Montpellier. In the October 16 edition of L’Hérault du jour, PCF departmental secretary Michel Passet criticised the party’s Montpellier branch for voting to support a Left Front ticket when “in Montepellier there are things that need changing, but the town is on the left and that’s where it should stay. It would be terrible if elected communist representatives didn’t take part in the new majority.”

Two days later the secretary of the Montpellier PCF branch, Claude Avenante, replied: “Why the rush to be on a PS ticket at any price, run by [PS mayoral candidate] J-P Moure, whose proposals are still unknown but whose political practices and neoliberal orientations can be measured?”

He added: “Today we are engaged in a process of jointly evolving an alternative project for Montpellier that will be up to meeting the social needs, expectations of democracy and environmental requirements of the people of our town. We do not look for convergence around the Left Front, but look for a convergence of the majority, with the Left Front as the tool that we communists have chosen to bring that about…”

A similar contest broke out in the Brittany department of Finistère when departmental secretary Eric de Bour came out in support of an alliance with the PS from the first round, provoking the circulation in the PCF’s Brittany region of a pro-Left Front petition, “For a Clear Left Alternative”.

Repercussions in the far left

These struggles are also beginning to affect France’s far-left forces, particularly the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA), whose predecessor, the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) promoted “100% Left” tickets in the 2008 municipal poll and achieved results like 15.3% in Clermont-Ferrand, 7.5% in Nancy, 7% in Limoges and 6.5% in St Denis.

To date the NPA has yet to announce a general approach to the 2014 municipal poll, but has already taken several local initiatives, including the creation of a ticket with the Left Party in Évry. Évry is the base of Manuel Valls. The PCF in Evry voted not to maintain its alliance with the PS but is critical of the NPA-Left Party ticket and is proposing a Left Front ticket.

In St. Denis the NPA is promoting a far left “mobilisation” ticket against the PCF-Left Front list.

In Arles, the NPA has joined the Left Party and other Left Front affiliates in supporting an opposition ticket to the incumbent PCF mayor. According to Christian Schwab, member of the Left Front affiliate Anti-Capitalist Left, “The orientation of the municipality is not what you would expect from the Left Front, there’s no break from what the PS could do.”

In the Channel port city of Dieppe, the PCF mayor could face a PG and Greens challenge over the issue of the transition to sustainable energy..

Some underlying issues

Above and beyond the heated debate of motives revealed by the PCF’s Paris decision lie important differences on the key issue—how to broaden the Left Front’s base of support, specifically which sections of a potential broader social base to focus on winning. Disappointed PS members and voters? The less “political” disillusioned masses being tempted by the FN? Young people, especially the unemployed?

The prevailing approach within the PCF is to try to build anti-austerity and anti-right majorities that are as broad as possible, involving, wherever possible, parts of the PS, especially its official left tendencies. The call is on these currents and the PS membership and sympathisers to drag the Hollande and Ayrault government away from austerity policies.

Supporters of this approach often find Mélenchon’s tone towards the PS too abrasive. On October 28, author and PCF local councilor Antoine Blocier wrote on his blog: “His main argument revolves around the idea that Hollande’s policies are disastrous and must be fought at all levels and that Hollande must ‘be punished’ (his words).

“Obviously, I share his point of view on the policies being carried out at the moment and the cruel disappointments they bring. But I find this business of ‘punishing’ too strong a coffee for me.

“Who indeed would be ‘punished’ if the elected representatives of the Left Front (and in particular the communists, whose competence is recognised in the municipalities), were absent from local councils? Not François Hollande, not the employers, but the people living in the towns…”

Blocier then asks: “Do we go along with Mélenchon’s injunction or do we decide case by case?

“If it’s to play a bit part and have no impact on the real debate, I’m against agreements with the PS…But, yes, wherever it’s possible for us to have agreements with the PS and the Greens without selling our soul but on the basis of clear human values and ambitious social objectives, I am for…

“I don’t want to demonise PS members as a whole. Some of them are real left citizens. Some of them are just as angry as we are with the backsliding of the government. There are mayors who have resigned from the PS. In short, they are the sort of people we can get somewhere with.”

Among the comments on Blocier’s piece appeared this note (from Paris PCF member Christophe Adriani):

“I agree on the basic point, even if I didn’t make that decision [in the Paris vote] because I didn’t find it relevant. The [Paris] majority decision breaks the momentum of the Left Front not because one should never ally with the PS nor ever govern with them, but because accords between chiefs-of-staffs (even with ‘steps forward’) rob us of a Left Front campaign—participative, inventive (you’ll remember ‘the order is--there are no orders’), broadening the base of the movement by bringing together not just organisations but citizens …

“Your arguments are above all valid to justify technical mergers in the second round, to move towards taking part in executive (yes, let’s be useful), but after having campaigned for a project as a whole, for a political alternative.”

In an “Open Letter to the Communists of Paris and Elsewhere” on the Mediapart web site PCF member Jean-Jacques Barey made a similar point before the Paris vote: “If we stand broad Left Front tickets in all the arrondissements on the basis of our analysis and program and we run a an aggressive, popular and dynamic campaign (something, pardon the reminder, that will not be the case in the event of a joint first round list with the PS), we will confront the question of a merged ticket in the second round with a strengthened balance of forces. And if we get over the 10% threshold, a realistic goal, we’ll achieve very good negotiating conditions for obtaining a lot more elected positions.”

Underlying such positions is the sense that the Left Front can’t advance much without helping build a popular fight back against the demoralising impact of the PS government, and that its election campaigns and tone have to aggressively promote that. That is what Mélenchon embodies, including for thousands of PCF members. In the words of Corbière: “What Hollande is doing weighs upon people’s morale. His message has ideological consequences: he disorients people and the first result is abstention. To be understood you need strong voices.”

In the October 25 L’Humanité PCF executive committee members Isabelle Lorand and Frédérick Genevée published a “Letter to Jean-Luc Mélenchon” that, while regretting the decision of the Paris PCF majority, sought to bring out underlying issues.

“If what bring us together is stronger than our differences, it remains the case that we have differences. Some are trivial. Others are more serious. We see two—over convergence and centralism. In an interview with Inrocks you show that your intellectual point of departure is a choice that’s thought-out, tenable and one for which you take responsibility: ‘What interests me is the most determined fraction of our people, that part that is ready to mobilise to construct an alternative. I build on what keeps going.’ And you add: ‘I believe conflict creates consciousness’.

“The least that can be said is that your point of view is coherent. But you can’t be unaware that another point of view, sustained for a long time by the PCF, exists inside the genuine left. The majority of the people of the left must be brought together. Rather than divide, it is necessary to seek out the highest levels of convergence, in order to struggle and win together.”

The PCF leaders continue: “As for centralism, it will be at the heart of our future debates. From the autonomy of parliamentarians to that of campaign and policy areas we don’t have the same approach. We communists broke with democratic centralism in 1994. That wasn’t so it can be revived in the Left Front …”

The writers end with an expression of support for Laurent and an appeal to Mélenchon to stop flirting with the idea of a rejigged Left Front including the Greens and the NPA.

“Like so many others, we don’t want that because it would be a feeble Left Front without a future. What would France be without the Left Front? Deadly thought! Of course, the Left Front is going through a turbulent patch and some put that to good use: the Left Front will be dead, and Mélenchon and Laurent with it. We must put an end to these speculations.

“The astounding election campaign that you led produced a dynamic that overcame our differences. It did not erase them…Let’s never lose sight of the essential, let’s carry out the debate fraternally so that the Left Front lives.”

What phase?

What can be realistically expected for the Left Front in the present phase of French politics? Mélenchon has set the organisation the task of getting a higher vote than the PS in the 2014 European elections, but is that really feasible? It seems clear that such a perspective cannot be met unless there are favourable changes on the ground of social struggle and boosted support for the Left Front arising from that.

In an October 17 note on his blog, Christian Picquet, spokeperson for Left Front founding affiliate the Uniting Left, explained that the rise of the FN was an inevitable phase among “the weakest and most disoriented sectors of the popular classes”.

“That’s doubtless what explains why the Left Front, while henceforth a point of reference on the political chessboard, has not been able to expand the influence acquired at the last presidential poll … We are therefore prey neither to a crisis of dissolution that some interested parties proclaim, nor to a growth crisis that a bit of agility would allow us to overcome.”

For Picquet, the Left Front has now to focus, on the basis of “that unity which is our greatest achievement”, on showing the mass of people that even partial victories against austerity are possible and helping prepare them.

“For the popular sectors to overcome their lethargy and or a devastating feeling of powerlessness, it is critical that hope returns and a perspective is reopened of victories, be they partial in the immediate term. The present weakness of mobilisations, as revealed in the battle over retirement and pensions, is basically explained by the feeling of wage earners and citizens that they don’t have the means to turn the situation to their advantage.”

Whether the Left Front, after the turmoil of the last period, is in condition to provide the inspiration, organisation and leadership necessary to turn the tide will become clearer in coming months.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, on the basis of the trend to majority PCF vote for Left Front tickets, is lately more hopeful: “I am not afraid of seeing communists in the streets distributing leaflets alongside Paris socialist MPs who voted for the National Interprofesional Agreement[ii], retirement at 66 and all the rest. It will not happen. Never. No way. Hidalgo has bought the wind! The communists are in the resistance. They are massively and fundamentally Left Front and not Huists[iii].

“As for us, let’s be patient. The split in the PS and the Greens is inevitable, just like the decomposition of the official left… But hold firm, because none of that will happen if we do not advance down our chosen road.”

[Dick Nichols is Green Left Weeklys and Links International Journal of SocialistRenewal’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona.]

[i] In France senators are elected indirectly, by a combination of local and regional councilors and deputies (150,000 electors in all). The more local councillors a party wins, the greater its chance of having senators elected.
[ii] The National Interprofesional Agreement (ANI) is the Ayrault government’s “labour market reform”, negotiated between the main employer confederation (MEDEF) and some of the French union confederations.
[iii] Huists, followers of former PCF national secretary Robert Hue, who came to believe that the class struggle had ceased to exist.


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