Birth of the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France: a reportback from participants

Toronto, February 18, 2009 -- Left Streamed -- The founding conference of the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA, New Anti-Capitalist Party) was held just outside Paris over the weekend of February 6-8, 2009.

[For more analysis of the NPA, click HERE.]

The conference marks the conclusion of a process initiated following the encouraging election results (1.5 million votes) of the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire's (LCR, Revolutionary Communist League) candidate in the 2007 presidential elections, 34-year-old postal worker Olivier Besancenot.

This process has involved thousands of activists and interested individuals organised in hundreds of committees across France. The new party begins its life with some 10,000 members and in a context of deepening economic crisis and a big wave of strikes and protests against the hard-right government of president Nicolas Sarkozy.

This is a reportback from two Toronto-based socialists who attended the founding conference, and Paris-based NPA member and teachers' union activist Miguel Concy.It was organised by the Socialist Project and Toronto New Socialists.

It is only fitting that this blog should note, if belatedly, the recent consummation of the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA). Given that left disunity during the last election squandered the opportunity to capitalise on the successful campaign against the EU Treaty, and given that the rightward lurch of the Socialist Party (PS) is dragging others down in its wake, this is an important step. Launched earlier this month amid general strikes and mass protests both in France and in the Carribean colonies, and with a starting membership of 9,123 hommes et femmes (this editorial mentions a figure approaching 12,000), and a leader who happens to be more popular than either Sarkozy or the blur slightly to his left, the NPA is in a position to make serious gains. The buzz about the party has been hard to ignore: the French media is in a tizzy, torn between zoological fascination with this exotic creature and dread. The English language press is equally trapped between disdain for the uppity "Trots", and admiration for the ways of those eccentric grenouilles.

One of the strangest criticisms of the NPA is that it doesn't have any solutions, just slogans. This is rather cheeky. Political discourse has been degraded by politicians and the commentariat into sentiments and soundbites for some time. What the NPA proposes is actually a concrete set of measures. They propose to support demand by raising the minimum wage an extra 300 euros a month, and that can be paid for by taxing the profits of the most lucrative companies on the Bourse de Paris. They propose to stabilise the financial system by expropriating the banking and insurance industries and running them as a single public concern. Given that the financial system is already toppling into public ownership in the worst way, in a chaotic fashion that leaves power and wealth in the hands of those who have used it in such a lethal way in the past. They would meet the demands of the strikers in Guadeloupe and Martinique by making the uber-rich CAC 40 pay. And they intend to support employment through new legislation to make sacking workers far more difficult. They also propose to defend immigrants against racist state policies, at a time when racism could prove a deadly force in European politics. These are indeed solutions, not slogans. They just don't happen to be the solutions that either the UMP, the PS, or the bourgeois media happen to support. The only policies which tend to qualify as 'solutions' are, as a rule, those which are possible within the narrow spectrum of an extremist doctrine known as neoliberalism. It is not exactly an unfamiliar situation to us rosbifs.

The NPA is not the only party emerging to challenge the PS from the left. The Left Party (PG), a breakaway from the Socialists claiming 4,000 members under the leadership of former PS Senator Jean-Luc Mélenchon, represents the electoralist left's attempts to replicate the success of the German Linke. Mélenchon has explained that his model is Oskar LaFontaine, while his juniors express the party's difference with the NPA in terms of the PG's preference for the ballot-box and roots in the reformist socialism of Jean Jaurès. But the Linke was always, even in its inception, a much broader formation than the Parti de Gauche appears to be. As a consequence of which, in addition to elements of the left union bureaucracy and left-wing parliamentarians, it has included a radical and far left pole that has maintained an orientation toward the rank and file. The Linke currently has over 76,000 members and 53 deputies in the Bundestag. It has consistently been ranked the fourth largest party in Germany. It is doubtful that the PG is going to replicate that feat in its current state. The risk is that the PG will be drawn into the orbit of the PS, just as the Greens and the PCF have become sattelites of that imploding pole star. Nonetheless, there is a possibility that in order to fight the Socialists from the Left on the electoral terrain at least, the PG, the NPA and the much-diminished Communists will form a 'Left Front'. What gives the NPA its best chance of making an impact, however, is the militant struggle against sarozysme, and the profile that Besancenot et al have acquired from supporting the recent strikes.

More informations on this website…

Olivier Besancenot (from the New Anti-Capitalist Party, NPA, France) is seen as one of the 50 who “who will frame the debate” on “the future” of capitalism, according to the Financial Times... To see the pictures of these 50 people and their “profile”, click on the above link...

To quote: “Olivier Besancenot, 34. French party leader. The Trotskyist postman who heads the New Anticapitalist party, France’s biggest extreme-left group, dreams of using unrest triggered by the recession to overturn the social and political order. Rated in polls as France’s most effective opposition politician, he has fought two presidential elections, winning well over 1m votes in each.”

For sure, most important are the social and political movements, classes and factions of class, at work behind the 50 individual figures selected here by the Financial Times. But the place of “outsider” given to Besancenot beside heads of states and of well established institutions, is nevertheless interesting: a crack in the system...

The credit crisis has placed the global financial system under almost unprecedented strain.

Tackling the many problems and charting a course through them to a new world order is a daunting challenge. It will require impressive political leadership and vision as well as concerted international cooperation.

Networks and institutions will matter as much as individuals.

In this graphic we explore the experiences and systems that connect the 50 people likely to be most influential in shaping the world debate.

The Group of Thirty for example, a nonprofit group founded in 1978 that comprises leading financiers, academics and officials and aims to “deepen understanding of international economic and financial issues”, is one interesting connection between these players.