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France: New Anti-Capitalist Party `a very exciting initiative'

Interview by Jim Jepps

December 22, 2008 -- There's been surprisingly little discussion in the UK on the launching of the New Anti-Capitalist Party (Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste or NPA) over the water in France. I thought I'd take a look at this interesting and significant new development and so I spoke to John Mullen, the editor of Socialisme International, to see if I could find out more.

You recently attended the French launch of the "New Anti-Capitalist Party". How did it go?

The official founding conference will be in January 2009. For the moment there are 400 “committees for a new anti-capitalist party” all over France. The Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) was the force which proposed and coordinated the foundation, and will dissolve itself into it in a couple of months time. I attended the November national delegate meeting as one of the delegates for my town.

The meeting was very encouraging. The new party initiative is obviously attracting a lot of people, many of them young, others are experienced union activists, mostly (apart from the LCR members) people who have not been in a party as such before. Obviously for the moment, there is quite a lot of concentration on the preparation of a programme to be voted at the founding conference. Nevertheless many committees have been active in campaigning on the issue of the financial crisis, defending schools and universities against budget cuts, defending illegal immigrants against expulsions and so on.

Four-hundred committees seems like an impressive number of groups for an organisation that hasn't even been launched yet. How do these committees operate? How large are they, for instance would you have more than one in a town? Essentially are they the new party in waiting or are they the campaign for the new party?

It is impressive. In Montpellier, a day-long regional meeting got 2000 people to it, a similar regional meeting in Marseilles got 1500, other towns had huge meetings. National commission meetings on ecology, on politics in working-class neighbourhoods and so on have produced wide debates and proposals. Essentially the committees are already the new party in embryo – every week there is a national political leaflet given out in almost all the towns. But the committees also have a lot of autonomy. In one town there will be a public meeting on the financial crisis, in another a symbolic invasion on the local hypermarket to protest against the government’s refusal to raise the minimum wage. The LCR already had very much a federal sort of organisation (for better and worse), and this will no doubt continue.

But the party-in-embryo does not yet have a regular publication, an essential element for a campaigning party. Nor does it yet have a proper financial structure, though plans have been made for subs based on income. There is a website, and a weekly paper should be set up two months after the founding conference.

So what's the thinking behind the new organisation? After all, even more than the UK, there's no shortage of left-wing groupings.

The massive strike waves and political movements of the last few years have shown that there are many, many people in France who would like to build a political alternative on the radical left. Olivier Besancenot, the spokesperson of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, has recently had significantly higher popularity ratings than Sarkozy or his prime minister, Fillon. But this widespread sympathy for radical left ideas has not led people to join far-left parties to anything like the extent one might think. And the Socialist and Communist parties are generally identified as “the parties who don’t change much when they’re in government”, even if the Socialist Party has not yet been fully converted to Blairism.

The New Anti-capitalist Party was called for by the LCR (and the LCR will be dissolving and merging with it). The idea was a party which is based on struggle, where elections are secondary, but which does not ask members to all identify with a specific revolutionary or Trotskyist position.

Who's currently involved in this initiative?

The only big organisation involved is the (soon to be ex-) LCR. And a few thousand individuals, quite a few of them well-known local or even national leaders of the non-party radical left, which has been quite big here for a number of years.

Inside the NPA, some activists want to draw the lines of the party fairly narrow, to be absolutely sure not to include people who are too quick to ally in local or regional government with the Socialist Party and their acceptance of neoliberalism. Others would like to make the party considerably broader, because they are worried that people who put mass movements and strikes at the centre of their politics, and are firmly opposed to the dictatorship of profit, will be kept out of the party if the lines are drawn too narrowly. Discussions continue on this. But the present name of the party, “anti-capitalist”, represents the compromise position at present. We want people who are opposed to capitalism, who generally believe that capitalism cannot be durably given a human face.

This means that inside the party you have people close to anarchism, close to radical green politics, close to Che Guevara’s ideas etc. etc. The debates are very interesting every time each current avoids simply affirming its identity and makes sure the questions are looked at in depth.

Do you think the current crisis in the Socialist Party is something that might bring dividends to the new project? The Left Party (Die Linke) in Germany certainly benefited from having a leading SPD member behind the project from the start. What are the prospects for attracting the best parts of the Communists, Socialists, Lutte Ouvrière and, I guess, the Greens?

Recent economic and political events certainly will boost the new party. It is not hard to get people to listen to anti-capitalism these days – waves of sackings are making sure of that. And the relative paralysis of the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party will certainly make it easier for the NPA to build support.

The situation is however complex, and the NPA is not the only organisation trying to crystallise the radical left. To go through the parties one by one, but briefly:

The Trotskyist organisation of a few thousand activists, Lutte Ouvrière, is opposed to the New Anti-Capitalist Party to such an extent that it broke with a very long tradition by allying itself with the Socialist Party in the municipal elections last April, rather than risking an alliance with the LCR and the non-party radical left.

For Lutte Ouvrière, all these people in the NPA are not revolutionaries and therefore not interesting. Over the last few years, Lutte Ouvrière has been completely cut off from any of the big unity political campaigns (against the European constitution, against the far-right politician Le Pen etc). LO sticks strictly to “workplace issues” and is in decline because of this. It has just expelled the minority current from its ranks because this current wanted to work with the New Anti-capitalist Party.

The leadership of the Communist Party (PCF) won a good majority at its conference for a “business as usual” motion putting alliances with the Socialist Party at the centre of its strategy. All minority motions did very well though. Whole sections of communists are leaving the party (many favourable to a federation of the radical left). But its paper and its good analyses of the economic crisis mean the PCF still has an audience.

The Socialist Party has seen two historic events in the last six months. First, a significant split to the left by Mr Mélenchon, who has now established a new party “Le parti de gauche” on the model, he says (but much smaller), of Germany's Die Linke. It will be founded very soon, and will attempt to fill the gap between the Socialist Party “let’s manage capitalism more humanly” line and the “almost revolutionary” line of the New Anti-Capitalist Party. It could become an important force, it’s hard to say.

The second key event is that Ségolène Royal, the Tony Blair of the Socialist Party, was defeated by an alliance much to the left of her (though not that left), on a very close poll. This is excellent news, and means that left arguments will be more audible. The radical left should be able to point up the difference between the left speeches of Martine Aubry, the new leader, and the lack of support for key struggles from this absolutely electoralist party.

Finally, some of these fragments, as well as teams from the non-party left, have just set up a “Federation” of left forces and activists, to try to overcome the bittiness of the radical left. The idea is that different forces and individuals can join it to run joint campaigns, but don’t need to leave their own organisations – dual membership is encouraged. This Federation is backed by a number of important figures.

The upshot of all this is that the New Anti-Capitalist Party has a lot of decisions to make about who to work with on what. For example, for the European elections in 2009 – is it better to have united slates of candidates across the radical left (I think so) or to have an independent “New Anti-capitalist Party” slate so as to be able to put forward a clearer platform.

The tendency within the New Anti-Capitalist Party is to rock forwards and backwards between sectarianism and unity politics. I am not talking about mad small-group sectarianism (because the new party will start with many thousands of people). But that sectarianism which always emphasises first of all our differences with other groups, and finds a host of reasons why we cannot work with them even for limited aims. There is a real tendency inside the NPA to think “we are the only real left” or “of course we want unity: people from other organisations should leave them and join us instead, then we’ll be united”. The tendency towards sectarianism is the biggest danger for the NPA. The numbers, relative youth, enthusiasm, energy and real pedagogy for explaining key issues are the most important positive points.

In Britain there has been an ongoing difficulty with left unity projects where revolutionaries have been determined to hang onto their autonomy within the broader alliance to the extent that it can create, to my mind, unnecessary conflicts and distrust of separate agendas. What's the position of the LCR, as the most significant organised current in the NPA, on this tricky balancing act between retaining distinct organisation within the NPA and submerging their efforts into it?

An old and tricky problem, and you and me won’t necessarily see it in the same way. In my opinion the problem comes when differences are not discussed but separate agendas are pushed forward in rather hidden ways.

I personally would like to see the NPA declare: “The NPA is a party which has some people who are revolutionaries and others are not. Debate will continue within the party on these issues, while together we build all the struggles which are needed to oppose the dictatorship of profit.” This is not really happening. There is a tendency to hide differences. So for example, on the question of whether the NPA is a revolutionary party or not, the posters will say “A party to revolutionise society” and a whole number of other formulations which avoid the question.

This “formulation politics” was already one of the banes of the LCR. On a difficult question, find a formulation which upsets no one, instead of deciding the question. Some of the formulations had no meaning …

So, it is an ongoing question. To emphasise that the aim of the LCR is not to control the NPA, the LCR is officially dissolving itself just before the foundation of the NPA, and there is no plan to maintain an LCR current inside the NPA. I think it likely that the different currents that were in the LCR will end up setting up three or four currents in the NPA, which seems fine to me. As Socialisme International, our tiny group of comrades, along with a couple of dozen others will certainly set up openly a current based on IS ideas (close to British Socialist Workers Party's theories).

To sum up, the New Anti-Capitalist Party is a very exciting initiative and everyone should build it. The new economic crisis means workers have even more of a need for a party based on class struggle, and there is a new generation of young activists being built very quickly. I hope the NPA will quickly work with wider federations, and in this way help to win partial victories on important points, while continuing the debate on how to definitively eliminate capitalism.

[John Mullen is an anti-capitalist activist in the south-west of France and editor of the review Socialisme International. This interview first appeared on Jim Jepp's blog, The Daily (Maybe), nad has been posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission.]


Can the old left become the new left that's needed?

By Dave Riley (Left Click)

The plethora of groups makes for a rather quaint cottage industry on the Australian far left which this year was expanded with the addition of the Revolutionary Socialist Party.

There's an interesting discussion thread appended to this post by Jim Jepps (since republished in LINKS) which seems to be trying to attack the LCR's NPA package in the same terms as the Australian Socialist Alliance is criticised and was related
to (and not related to) here.

The same sort of barrage was thrown at the Scottish Socialist Party for a long time.

It doesn't take much to recognise a sort of far left mindset in play.

There's this chronic schematism that simply by repeating often enough that you are revolutionary and by inserting the correct POV into any exchange then you really and truly must be what you say you are.

the far left's curse because in one way it's a sort of substitutionism. Sort of "INSERT PROPAGANDA HERE" approach.

There's nothing wrong with propaganda of course but real world politics has to deal with the benchmark that, outside the religions, it's not just what you say but what you do that counts.

While it's true that for a long period the doing if active at all, can seem at least very restrained. That was "the long march" of the Trotskyists that bears down upon the many branches in that current today. It was primarily about what the US SWP called "revolutionary continuity".

The question is, of course, whether that time is over. That's the judgement being asked. This is why a lot of the discussion on the far left stretches across a pessimism to optimism axis. The debate is whether there is political motion you can relate to or not.

I think that's the core debate in the UK SWP dispute at the present time despite the organisational distractions. If there is motion how do you relate to it.

And to some degree that prospect is obscured by the organisational question. There are those that want to push an anti-Leninist wheel barrow as though all there is to Lenin was a formatted party structure passed on by formula -- while ignoring the fact that at Lenin's core advocacy is the methodology of dialectical materialism.

The complication is that if you only see issues of party structure you cease to analyse contemporary politics in the same potential light as Lenin did. Trotsky's handicap -- and the burden of the Trotskyists -- was a certain timelessness that relied on a Felix like "bag of Tricks" toolbox of options: often formulated either "allowed" or "not allowed" . That was this legacy in a way, a DIY package that supposedly fitted all occasions.

I find the SWP discussion about the united front very much contained by this sort of formalistic thinking and I can remember similar exchanges in like manner in the DSP going back to 20 + years ago where the nomenclature of Trotskyism was standard discourse.

So thinking outside the square can be a hard ask for this left. That's certainly my impression after the three years of debate -- 2003-2006 -- in the Socialist Alliance with the small affiliates.

You may be able to lead a horse to water, but....

But to see the same arguments replicated in the exchange around the French NPA suggests a sort of universal political culture,almost a lingua franca that all these groups share. It's almost a moralism when you look long and hard at it, and ironic given that they are still so keen to remain separate from one another.

Letting go

The problem is letting go. I think that's the correct term as there is a sort of catharsis at stake. There's a knee jerk response that presumes that if you let go an inch you are surely going to go all the way and before you know it, there's your revolutionary perspective flying out the window and everything you spent years preserving in way of political modus operandi is spent in a twice.

I don't make light of such dangers as we all know our history lessons. But it seems to me that a generic wastage of revolutionism is oftentimes buoyed up by major shift rightward in key sectors of the working class or petti bourgeoisie. A move rightward should have a social base to consolidate a broad subjective shift. It happens. That's what history tells us anyhow.

But is it happening now? And is there a danger of the far left trialling along behind whatever currently is moving in that direction?

We know for instance that those Trotskyists who joined the ALP -- and Bob Gould is a good example of the ilk -- preferred to stay there and moderate their politics to fit the milieu. But that tendency -- this pressure to adapt -- is standard for any one revolutionist or any number of revolutionary groups. The problem with the groups is that they adopt a bunker mode to protect themselves from the ideological barrages of the bourgeoisie and tend to so often freeze their all in a programatic timelessness as they try to preserve their Real McCoy politics until their day in the sun comes around.

Of course that's not absolute as I'm being general rather than group specific. However versions of this proclivity are shared by all the Trotskysist groupuscules. So while it is correct to argue that sectarianism is a product of isolation from the working class, you can rationalise that isolation in a way that is sure to chronically deepen it and even make it a badge of honour: your raison d'etre. Soon enough you begin to believe that that isolation is the way the world was meant to be and there is no way around this seeming reality in front of you. So what you do in your cul de sac is work at perfecting your program because sustaining that becomes your major focus.

This is why you can have groups in Australia who number less than 20 members and all of these few think they rather than someone else are the true Marxists. And like Socialist Alternative you chart a propagandist course convinced that from little things big things grow.How they supposedly grow isn't necessarily something that you should be too concerned with. After all with the right program your day will surely come.

I think the right word for this is passivity -- a passivity born upon a certain pessimism that all we lefties can hope for is survival and the now and then primitive accumulation of cadre.

If you have spent years playing around with ideas and perspectives as you try ever so hard to get your viewpoint (and less often your dopoint) just so, it is disconcerting to relate to a prospect where political academe like that may not be so important. I admit that I am torn myself between the thrill of political discovery and inquiry, of debating out conflicting points of view in order to arrive at a 'correct' position -- and the often mundane business of , I guess, networking, rooting for and negotiating alliances with people who in the main don't give a fig for the theory.

The former seems so safe and cosy in comparison to the free form of the latter. Where's the friggin rules!? Where's Marx supposed to sit?

The complication is that it can become so very difficult to notice the difference between the circle spirit milieu of the far left and the everyday reality of the rest of the population. This failure to note the divide has been obscured I think by the buoyancy of movement politics these last 40 years. So there's been an outer defence perimeter that has protected the far left in a the way that a moat protects a castle. But as that wave of movement growth recedes -- as it has done over the last decade -- the difference between the groupuscules and the pressing political reality seems sharper as there's less veneer in place to dampen the contrast.

Party politics

The irony is that there's this massive deference to the potential role for party, as distinct from movement, politics and this determined disinclination of most the far left groups to seize the day and do anything about it. Surely their day in the sun has arrived, hasn't it?

The complication is that the party that people will relate to is not like the many varieties/one clone on offer from the groupuscules. And therein exists not only a problem of practice but a problem of theory because the historical debate is whether the groups have misread their Bolshevik histories. I think that is indeed the case.

There's a interesting commentary by the late Peter Camejo where he takes up the dedicated inadequacy of the far left mindset:
The idea that a group of a few hundred people who are not in the leadership of any mass movement, much less integrally involved in leading the working class as a social force, can be referred to as a Leninist party and having a “correct program” would never have crossed Lenin’s mind. In 1918 Lenin would refer to such an idea as clowning.

By the 1940s, however, within the Trotskyist movement a conception had taken root that no matter how small or disconnected from the workers movement a group might be, if it had the “correct” program and a cadre, it was a Leninist Party and would eventually “win”.

Of course there's a problem inherent in just surviving politically under capitalism -- but what has happened I think is that the sentence that all groups face is inevitably the Alice in Wonderland ruling that you have to run very fast in order to stay in the one place. And that survival mode has warped the ability of the groups to think outside where they're at.

This is a very serious mistake that only becomes evident in the present context that the far left is trying to deal with. In places where there has been a strong history of woking class fightback against neo-liberalism the what is to be done? question is a little easier for some groups to relate to and begin to answer. But the general trend has been to fight tooth and nail against the tide toward broader, more user friendly party formations for the 21st Century's version of socialism.

The problem may be that if this stand off is persevered with, given time, the far left could be more marginal than it is now.

Is that all there is to it?

There was another element in this theme that I didn't get a chance to develop.

Where the notion of a new broad party has taken off and even in those sectors who have embraced the Green Party option there's a default attitude that the party we want is a party to the left of social democracy; a party that can begin to get the politics right.

So in fact what is being aspired to is indeed a new left party as though a new left party is all we want. I think that's an attitude shared by so many socialist group exers in the Greens here in Australia and the same sort of attitude seems to be buoyed up around the RESPECT project in the UK. So in one sense any broad left party will do so long as it fills the political space on the left -- and the broader, the better.

So the main game is seen to open these projects up to all comers. You can see that debate now on the topic of the LCR's attitude to the French CP and sectors coming out of the Socialist Party. In some quarters the LCR is being called sectarian for being too narrow in its NPA pitch.

While I cannot comment in depth about the French context, I think generally there's this attitude that what the Marxist left needs to do is facilitate these new formations, dissolve into them and wake up on the morrow in a new political context, having done their bit for the cause. In part this is why there's a certain huffing and puffing around the question of the Leninist model that these far left groups supposedly carry into these new pluralist formations -- and the "Leninist party model" is seen as a handicap that is sure to cheapen the exercise, even skewer and cripple its potential.

Whether that may be the case is not proven at all as where Marxist groups have embraced the core new party dynamic then there's no major hassles.

Where they don't, such as with the SWP or the SP in the UK, you do indeed have problems, and if you like the SWP's experience of RESPECT is a text book example of how not to engage in these new party projects.

That said, the seeming opposite is not true either: that these new party projects are the end of Leninist ways and means. I don't like using the term "Leninist" because it can be thwart with so many different meanings. What I want to suggest is that the business of creating a mass revolutionary party doesn't take a rest, a backseat or negotiate a detour just because the main arena of activism is within these new formations.

There's this crude fit that tries to argue that what in effect you are seeking to do is trade in an "old style" (Leninist / groupuscule) party formula for a new loosey goosey pluralist one. That's not true at all as it isn't about marking down your politics.

Of course there is plenty of room for some debate on this point as the complication of how electoralist the new party is to be does begin to shape its platform, advocacy and probably its style. But if these formations were just electoralist or overwhelmingly so then they would be constrained by that focus. And that's the rub. It isn't about creating new left parties for the sake of creating new left parties. It's about continuing the business of forging a party that can build a movement to overthrow capitalism.

It's about doing that in the context of consolidating ongoing partnerships that are aggregated in , by and with these new formations. It seems to me that the LCR/NPA axis is clearer on that point than some other projects, and I think Mullen catches that when he points out: "“The NPA is a party which has some people who are revolutionaries and others are not. Debate will continue within the party on these issues, while together we build all the struggles which are needed to oppose the dictatorship of profit.” But that doesn't mean that the new party has to resolve the reform or revolution question from early on in its existence. Concretely, and that's the key issue I think, how much would a declaration of revolutionary intent make to what the party does?

This seems to be a ongoing complication of the groupuscule mindset: that so long as you have the rhetoric in place then everything else is secondary. And maybe as each year's annual conference is notched up you seed the party platform with greater swathes of the Transitional Program - which will somehow force the party to veer ever further leftward.

But it's not that simple or so linear.

Lessons for the NPA from the SSP/Solidarity experience

Dear Comrades,

I want to congratulate you for the excellent discussion article posted by Jim Jepps in his interview with Socialism Internationale editor John Mullen of the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire (LCR) in Links (December 22nd 2008). It also follows on from another excellent piece by Jean-Michel Edwin in the CPGB Weekly Worker 748 (December 4th 2008) discussing the latest developments on the far left in France.

1.1. My own experience of the Socialist Alliance and Respect in England, the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) and more recently Solidarity-Scotland's Socialist Movement (Solidarity-SSM)have convinced me of a number of things. These SSP and Solidarity experiences have some salutory lessons for LCR and NPA activists who seem to have a model closer in spirit to the SSP one. I used to think the SSP-model i.e. full commitment to a 100% combat socialist party demanding platform rights for tendencies and members of former parties was THE model. I know think that the SSP-model was exceptional but not repeatable compared to the European left experiences where unity was achieved on a far less radical unity platform. In Europe they also had and have a much lesser degree of party centralisation and varying levels of commitment to discussing revolution vs reform.


1.2. Although the NPA is rightly being founded on an anti-capitalist but inclusive basis, I think it is a grave mistake for the leading Marxist current within it - the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire (LCR) - indeed the one which has initiated and therefore shaped its direction and foundation - to liquidate itself at the new party's birth.

1.3. The LCR should defintiely NOT dissolve without forming itself as a tendency or fraction to continue to represent the LCR/FI tradition overtly within the NPA. More importantly the idea that the NPA could carry on the LCR's functions within the FI is clearly suspect. The LCR's leadership role in the FI gives it such dominance within it that liquidating one means liquidating both in practice. So if the FI functions were to be carried out by NPA functionaries, in practice the LCR/FI would continue to exist. How would that be accountable to the rest of the FI's member groups in over 40 countries?

1.4. The very fact the LCR has existed for 40 years and managed in the last 7 years to achieve a significant degree of revolutionary regroupment and popular support around Besancenot's candidature, shows that it is very possible and realistic to win workers directly to revolutionary and radical anti-capitalist ideas. Maybe moreso in France in a way it might not be possible in England or Scotland just now. These gains are the result of the FI and LCR's slow but steady left turn during and after the big strike waves France in 1995. Prior to that the FI had crystallised a bankrupt right-wing form of regroupment with reformist forces to its right during which its overtures were rejected because the LCR's support was too small to be taken seriously by their reformist partners. Today it is different as the reformists are now desperate to get into bed with the LCR and scupper the NPA project through its friends in the liquidationist Unir wing of the FI's strongest party.

1.5. If the LCR's liquidation actually aided the process of party building and regroupment I would support it, but John Mullen and his Socialisme Internationale (SI) comrades (co-thinkers of the British SWP) seem to support the move in the same way as their Marx 21 colleagues in Germany. They stayed quiet for the sake of broader left unity with the PDS and Lafontaine while the PDS right wingers expelled the Berlin anti-neo liberal comrades for rightly trying to keep a clear line between the Left party as an anti-capitalist and governmental lefts who had already betrayed in office in Berlin's SPD/PDS administration.

1.6. My worry is that, freed from their Marxist unity within the LCR - all former factions of the LCR will be obliged to form separate platforms within the broader anti-capitalist NPA. The likelihood is that the NPA's formation alongside the LCR's liquidation will lead to more fragmentation of the pro-NPA far-left currents once the LCR dissolves. That will mean more of a bear-pit for the indepenmdent leftists to negotiate when they join. There is therefore going to be less revolutionary unity and a greater danger of reformist and left pluralist degeneration if the LCR disappears. It will be a licence for Christian Piquet's LCR faction Unir to support the formation of a much broader left unity list with the considerably more sectarian Lutte Ouvriere and Parti Ouvrier Internationaliste on the one hand; with the opportunist governmental left leaderships of the Parti Communitse Francais (PCF), Parti de la Gauche (PG) and even elements of the Parti Socialiste (PS) which Jean-MIchel Edwin describes on the other.

1.8. During 2004-2006 when discussing the way forward ISM members concluded that the sole purpose of their existance was to bring the SSP into existance. Once they'd done that - in the teeth of opposition from their own international the CWI and from most of the Marxist left in Britain - and having rejected the need for themselves to be a Marxist cadre organisation - they couldn't work out a new role other than being a loose think-tank for the parliamentary leadership. It seems the LCR has come to the conclusion it should dissolve immediately on formation of the NPA unlike the ISM which only formally dissolved 7 years after the SSP was launched. It seems for the LCR giving birth to the NPA and the abandonment of the child by its mother should be simultaneous events.

1.9. The ISM struggled to find a new purpose to exist other than to stay in charge of the SSP to 'stop the sectarians' (i.e. the CWI and SWP) getting hold of it. In this struggle they becoame most strongly imbued with the essence of the sectarian behaviour they were supposoedly criticising. They expressed this by boycotting political work not initiated by their comrades - especially campaigns initiated by the SWP comrades : anti-racism; the G8 and in anti-war campaigning. The Scottish Stop the War coalition was set up despite the SSP leadership who always counterposed economic electoral demands to the Iraq war. Scottish SWP comrades, the anti-war activists and their Muslim community allies eventually formed the Scottish STWC out of frustration with the total bureaucratism and passivity of the previous Scottish Coalition for Justice not War (led by members of the Labour left and the CPB Scotland) which the SSP leadership had supported.

1.10 The SSP experience where the leading ISM-platform had dissolved itself to the point of non-existance, shows that in hindsight it is a big mistake for the pro-genitors of a new party project to vote themselves out of existance prematurely. The LCR have a responsibility to the NPA party activists as trained cadres for producing a flexible, non-sectarian (and indeed actively anti-sectarian) Marxist line of their own. Without one the debates will be dominated by those platforms who take their political influences from elsewhere. The LCR also have a responsibility to their international comrades and to the centrist Mandelite FI tradition that it supposedly upholds. Liquidating a centrist Marxist international to the right is a step back, not forwards.


2.1. The LCR apparatus will also become the apparatus of the new party. The bureaucratic danger is obvious though couched in laudable non-sectarian terms and with a desire to be open to the new anti-capitalist forces making up the NPA. However, the LCR cadres have the experience of organising as revolutionary Marxists and the recent experience of successful election and referendum campaigns behind them. The ex-LCR cadres would inevitability dominate proceedings as those from the LCR tradition hold a distinct advantage in practice over the non-party and non-aligned elements who will join. Purely because of their relative organisational track record, size and coherence which we in the SSP called those with access to "the Marxist box of tricks" - the LCR will exist in all but name but without the democratic centralist structures of a revolutionary organisation. We had that in the ISM amd the SSP. Eventually the absence of any real ideological leadership from the ISM and its slow simmering internal split during 2002-2004 between Edinburgh,Glasgow and Inverness based cliques, eventually disorientated the whole SSP.

2.2. Once the ISM become a mere fan-club (first for Tommy Sheridan, then later for the SSP EC leadership that betrayed him) and moved away from being a trained Marxist cadre towards becoming the bureaucratic apparatus of the new broad party. The SSP apparatchiks (regional organisers, journalists, parliamentary assistants) become dependent on the parliamentary salaries donated from the workers wage policy and from public money associated with standing in elections in Scotland (the Members Salary Allowance) for staffing costs.

2.3. The hiring of 20 paid workers at the Scottish Socialist Voice newspaper, in the Glasgow and Edinburgh offices absorbed many of the most experienced Marxist cadres. The SSP world was one where the members were serving the party's apparatus to pay these salaries rather than the other way round. Nobody in the ISM ever intended that to happen of course and I would never accuse my former comrades of deliberately desiring or setting out to achieve that result. However social being determines soical consciousness. If you depend for your wages on other workers rather than a capitalist boss - or indeed your capitalist boss is directly or indirectly the state in the form of it's parliamentary subsidy - then it doesn't matter how experienced a Marxist you are. That experience or social being acts to transform your relationship to the rest of the working class and to your party comrades. Indeed it slowly begins to change your outlook as inevitably elections become the priority activity because that's how your wages are paid - rather than relying on the class struggle solidarity and the widening of those struggles to raise these resources. Indeed I remember Felicity Garvie in the March 2006 Party Conference explicitly arguing for the SSP to join the reformist GUE/United Left group in the European Parliament on the basis that we'd get loads of money from them to run on their list in Scotland.

2.4. Despite the explicitly anti-capitalist 2005 Make Capitalism History manifesto for the Westminster elections - the radical rhetoric contrasted sharply with the reformist electoral and petition-based routinism of party activities and street stall work. Being elected wasn't the only danger of reformist drift, it was coming from the very way we campaigned. The SSP raised illusions that the Scottish Parliament could vote through progressive measures rather than workers taking class struggle action to win their demands.


3.1. The role of reformism was the issue at the heart of the crisis of the Scottish left well before the split in the SSP. The SSP was criticised from the right for being too radical or not being broad-party or united front-enough in nature to attract left-wards moving reformist workers. Or from the far left by some for not being overtly revolutionary enough and too concentrated around parliamentary struggles. These tensions between being one and the other meant the downfall of the SSP was inevitable. I once agreed with Alan McCombes's analysis developed when the ISM split with the CWI in 2000 that the danger of reformist degeneration was very limited within the SSP project. This was that because the parameters of debate were between the positions of Marxist platforms; the ISM were organised and entrenched as the leadership with majority support for its analysis; and the fact that there was no organised right-wing or reformist current. We were right about this up until the point we got 6 MSPs elected in 2003.

3.2. Unexpected success caused the SSP way more problems than we realised, as it catapulted comrades with previously little political experience into the media limelight. As the burden of parliamentary casework took hold, there was very little backing from the party apparatus and even less practical backing from the 2,000 members of the party. The SSP voters however expected a professional parliamentary oriented approach from SSP MSPs as workers advocates in the way Tommy Sheridan had been from 1999-2003. We asked workers to give us their votes to represernts their interests in parliament and when they did, they came making demands on our casework time which frankly overwhelmed our full timers and MSPs.

3.3. What the SSP voters got instead were clumsly attempts to merge extra-parliamentary struggles with those of the parliamentary chamber which backfired on the party, getting the 4 MSPs expelled for month for the their troubles in 2005 afetr Gleneagles(costing the party members £20,000 which they had to raise) making it look like it was not serious about being elected.

3.4. Clearly the parallel here is that millions of French workers already look to the LCR and to Olivier Besancenot and millions more will inevitably have much higher expectations of the NPA as it gains ground, wins local, regional and parliamentary seats. Inevitably the NPA must grapple with how much of a professional bureaucracy to build up and who (from what political backgrounds) will occupy those positions and how politically accountable and recallable they will be to NPA rank and file members. From experience I know ours was minimally accountable from day to day expect for the symbolic annual elections at party conference (which managed to re-elect the party treasurer for 5 years running despite her failure to submit the party's accounts on time ever!!). Attempts I made within the SSP and later in Solidarity to have a proper and accountable line management structure for the employment of party staff were resisted and ignored in both parties as the factions preferred to mobilise their supporters to vote for their preferred candidates for the job regardless of technical and proactical ability.


4.1. The split in the SSP occured organisationally because the SSP apparatus refused to allow the process of party democracy to operate that would have made them more accountabler and would have got rid of them through a pro-Tommy majority at conference. Because the ex-ISM led SSP EC felt ownership over the resources they had committed to building the party in the first place, they felt they had the right to take their ball home once things were out of their control. While they ignored the decisions of the controversial May 2006 National Coucnil meeting which had backed Tommy Sheridan, the ISM/SSP bureauracy changed the office locks, expelled and used violence against SWP cormades in Edinburgh; then cancelled the planned August National Council meeting after the court case.

4.2. The SSP leaders assured us in the ISM that "the lunatics would take over the asylum" if they ever lost control; that Tommy was a "reformist" danger on issues like knife crime; that the ISM were still revolutionaries; and that the SSP under SWP/CWI control would be a fate worse then death. Well no it would not have been - as they subsequently showed inside Solidarity and in the election results where in Glasgow the organisation outpolled the SSP by more than 3 to 1 and Tommy was the only socialist who got anywhere near being re-elected as an MSP. Solidarity also had by far the largest election rallies at the time, because they were more honest and open about the diverse currents and forces involved than they were allowed within the SSP. Despite total divergence of their strategies in England and Wales - the SWP and CWI have surprisingly stayed together amicably within Solidarity. Would it really have been that bad Tommy won back control of the SSP? Obviously I don't think so given Solidarity (SWP and other) activists have continued to play leading roles within the anti-war, anti-racist and Palestine solidarity movements while CWI members lead significant PCS, UNISON and other public sector workers groups.

4.3. I believe that a normal majority of SSP delegates would have voted out the old ex-ISM EC members in August 2006 and repalced them with a broad slate representing the whole spectrum of the party and widened the pool of staff to non-ISM supporters. However it was not be as the SSP EC's actions against Tommy Sheridan forced the pro-Sheridan groups and individuals to split to form Solidarity.

4.4. After the initial promising start to Solidarity as a kind of hybrid between the SSP in terms of programme; and Respect in terms of orientation to workers, anti-war, anti-racist and green activists, things have slipped badly since then. Solidarity did indeed become domianted by its three main forces, the SWP, CWI and ex-ISM but pro-Sheridan factions to the exclusion of race and anti-racism issues. The Muslim communities activists and left-leaning workers have shifted to the SNP not towards the far left. Recent Scottish by-elections for Westminster seats have seen the SSP only slightly outpolling Solidarity but with both getting derisory votes - about 500 each in Glasgow East; and just 200 for the SSP and just 79 for Solidarity well below 1% combined in Glenrothes. A divided left polls poorly as the SNP gains working class and left credibility.

4.5. This experience brings into question the role of platforms. Many ex-SSP comrades conclude that means platforms should not be allowed. I don't agree because in the end platforms have been and are crucial to the building of left parties because of the sections of the working clas which they influence and mobilise in social movements and trade unions who otherwise would not be organised politically.

4.6. These SSP and Solidarity experiences have some salutory lessons for LCR and NPA activists who seem to have a model closer in spirit to the SSP one. The dissolution of the LCR into the NPA (as the ISM did for the SSP) inevitably means the majority of the NPA's future apparatus will already be of one particular factional alignment. That is clearly a dangerous position for the future of this unity project as the ex-LCR 'line' will inevitably tend to get expressed in NPA guise. This has shown to be true elsewhere whenever one particular left group dominates a left unity formation (NB the PDS in the Left Party, the DSP in the SA, the SWP in Respect).


5.1. The SSP also approached the Labour Left very critically using the incorrect CWI analysis of Labour as not being any kind of 'bourgeois workers party'. This cut off the SSP from any meanignful tactics towards this milieu. The NPA/LCR in France has three bourgeois workers parties (the PS, PCF and now the PG) to deal with so the temptation for 'Left unity at any price' will be strong indeed. However, I would caution the LCR from allowing PG leader Melenchon to sidetrack their correct attempt to form the NPA on an anti-capitalist basis, into a left unity list that blurs the distinction between the governmental left (who want to manage capitalism by joining the government) and the anti-capitalist left who want a break with the system. The only reason the LCR is in the position to influence the terms of the formation of the NPA is because it didn't make those compromises early on but instead related to the committees of the NO campaign in the 2006 Euro referendum. They rightly withstood the pressure to stand Besancenot down and to join with Jose Bove and JP Chevnement, and Marie Buffet for the 2007 Presidential elections, the LCR getting more than the other left candidates combined.

5.2. The formation of the Parti de la Gauche (PG) is a deliberately spoiler attempt to sabotage the possibility of the NPA becoming a serious force - to syphon off some of its potential recruits in order to build up enough forces to later on dilute the radical nature of any future left unity project. It has one ultimate purpose to stop the process pointing towards building an anti-capitalist basius for unity - towards a revolutionary party. The defence of the NPA as an anti-capitalist bloc is a better guarantee of its progress towards revolution and away from reform. It is better for a united NPA to develop first and then talk with the left bourgeois workers parties later.

5.3. The reformist danger is inevitable if the new parties are predominantly electoralist in their activity and nature. It is and was a difficult balancing act between electoral and grassroots campaigning but it is worth the risk as long as the people doing it have the time; and the honesty to theorise and therefore self-critique what they are doing. There was precious little of that within the ISM at the time I was with them. The ISM cadres had hundreds of years of revolutionary experience between them all (I mean those in both the SSP and Solidarity today) yet they could not avoid the mistakes of parliamentary electoralism; and failing to properly integrate themselves into the anti-war and G8 movements.


6.1. A major reason I resigned from Solidarity in Novemebr 2007, was because it didn't take seriously enough my concerns on race and racism and the need to win the class struggle within the Black and minority ethnic "communities of resistance". Because of openly expressed Islamophobia; support for some immigration controls by a significant minority of Solidarity members (though not its leadership)and constant CWI members' comdemnation of Palestine, Iraq and Muslim resistance to imperialism as "terrorism" I felt obliged to leave.

6.2. The role of race in class politics is perhaps even more important in France in the formation of the far left because of the rebellions in the banlieues which brought Sarkozy to power in 2006. However they also exposed the French far left - especially LO but also sections of the LCR known for their atheist sectarianism against the religious sentiments of the Muslim Arab and African minorities in French cities - as deeply Islamophobic thus incapable of orienting to a significant percentage of the urban working class.

6.3. Then there's the mass struggle of the sans-papier movement of migrant workers demanding trade union and citizenship rights which really began in France in the early 1990s. Just where are the leaders of these struggles in the deliberations of the anti-capitalist left? Where is there any mention of this in the NPA's outline programme? I asked the same of the parties I have been a member of in Britain and as I have seen so far this is no serious mention of anti-racism, immigration etc in teh minimal programmes whuich yet again concentrate on mostly economic demands.

6.4. I demand that any new left party that wants my community's support has to understand race and class and to include the leaders of anti-racist struggles as a core part of any left unity project. The current moves by a group of trade unionists to restore some minimal forms of Left Unity in Scotland will be achieved more effectively if we as black activists are included from the start. A group of Black radical workers could not and would not have written such a bland statement as that proposed so far in Scotland. Of course to start with it needs to be miminal to be inclusive of various left wing traditions - but not so minimal that it excludes the anti-racism, Black power and Pan-African traditions. Black communities cannot continue to always be the expendable part of the working class when it comes to far left projects. If the NPA in France is to be any different it must include these struggles as central to its core understanding of internationalism from below.

6.5. Put bluntly, the gain throughout Europe of a properly democratic anti-capitalist party - the NPA - is way greater significance than any national gain the French working class might make by having a few more left wing Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) (and that is a very questionable advantage). More tot eh point what the leaders of the PG and indeed the neo-Keynesian social democrats now leading the Linkspartei are out to schieve is nothign other than the refroamtion of left-wing social democracy as ameans to counter the dvelopment of revolutionary political movements.

6.6. This so-called new Left seek to contain these mass struggles - not to see them win and ultimately take power away from the capitalist class. Unless the Marxists of all varieties make what I might call "the Marxist Bloc" tactic against the reformist currents that will inevitably join to frustrate and strangle the party - they will not succeed in creating the political space for a revolutionary workers democracy to emerge within the new anti-capitalist and left parties.

Yours in comradeship,

One Love

Graham Campbell (Scotland Editor:Kilombo Pan-African Magazine - formerly Glasgow Convever Solidarity)

Contact 07758 253 823

In regard to Lessons for the NPA from the SSP/Solidarity experie

That's quite a statement of position but I am not so familiar with the experience in France or Scotland such that I can agree or disagree with Graham Campbell's rendering on these experiences.

But he does touch upon an issue that I think is an important one. But, you see, just as I oppose the dictum that parties should dissolve into these new formations; I am also not arguing that they shouldn't. I know that Campbell isn't arguing that either but he is projecting complications that he insists should impact on any one trajectory of dissolution. He proposes criteria.

My answer is that I don't know. That I'm in the business of taking it as it comes. Of deciding what to do next.

In effect I don't think dissolution is the most important question.I think practice and politics is. But Campbell points out that it wasn't specifically because of these issues of dissolution that he has not only left the SSP but Solidarity as well.

So I'm a touch confused as I cannot see the lineal association between dissolving and the party problems that he stresses. I'd like to see it because that would in fact suit my own hypothesis, but I can't.

By Campbell's criterion of preserving organised party input, Solidarity should have been politically stronger because the SWP and the CWI were more engaged with the project; when the SSP, by the same marker, was loosey goosey.

IF the SSP was this and Solidarity is that -- what is the best recourse for changing the situation, changing the politics or practice?

Splitting? Resigning? That's my frustration with his Scottish story. That instead of exploring ways and means to resolve these festering conflicts or the politics that are said to be in dispute,the option selected was to split.

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