Split in the New Anticapitalist Party (France): 'A change of epoch for the revolutionary left'

First published at International Socialism Project.

In December 2022, the New Anticapitalist Party’s (NPA) congress ended in a split between two roughly equivalent forces. Readers can see the initial statements of the two groups translated into English further below.

After the implosion of the NPA, François Sabado, former leader of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR), which took the initiative to form the NPA in 2009, dissolving itself into the party at the same time, makes a critical assessment and evokes the aftermath of the revolutionary Marxist current. Sabado’s interview with Mathieu Dejean appeared originally here. The ISP has translated this from the Spanish version of the interview that Viento Sur published.

While the future of the tendency animated by former militants of the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR), of which Olivier Besancenot is a member, is uncertain, François Sabado, historical leader of the LCR, who had seen the NPA as a broader formation that could envelope the LCR (he was a member of its leadership until 2015), looks back on this crisis. More generally, he takes stock of this attempt to unite the anti-capitalists, and of the parallel trajectory of La France Insoumise, which is also experiencing its own internal turbulence.

Mathieu Dejean: With the implosion of the NPA at its 5th congress, is it the end of the political current associated with the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR), born in France in 1966, that continued and wanted to go beyond itself with the NPA?

François Sabado: It does not have to be the end! We must do everything possible to understand what has happened and to carry forward our history. That said, this crisis is not a bolt from the blow. The background of the air –as Chris Marker would say [director of the 1977 documentary of the left and workers’ movements Le fond de l’air est rouge (There is red in the air) – M.D.] – is that of the end of an epoch, not only for us, but for the entire workers’ movement in the advanced capitalist countries.

What does this end of an epoch consist of?

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the Soviet Union disintegrated, we took note for the first time of a change of epoch. With Daniel Bensaïd, we wrote a document entitled “To the left of the possible”, in which we formulated the triptych: new era, new program, new party. At the time, we thought it was only the end of a cycle, that of Stalinism. But we realized that it was not only the end of the Stalinist cycle, but also the end of the driving force of the October Revolution. If you go a little deeper, you can even see in certain contemporary tendencies the end of everything that gave rise to the history of the workers’ movement in the mid-19th century: parliamentary democracy, the nation state, the trade union and political workers’ movement, social democracy, the communist parties and the revolutionary currents: everything is in crisis, it is the end of an epoch.

What do you think are the main characteristics of the current political situation?

On the right, we are witnessing the rise of authoritarian forms of ruling-class political domination, and challenges to democracy—of what is called illiberalism—from dictatorial regimes in certain countries. These authoritarian forms arose alongside the neoliberal capitalism of the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. The traditional bourgeois parties are in crisis. The same is true of the traditional parties of the workers’ movement, which are affected by this change. Neoliberalism is liquidating all the social conquests and commitments achieved up to the 1980s little by little. As for the revolutionary left, it has not appeared as an alternative.

Despite all these changes, what remains—and this is why I am a Marxist—is the class struggle. It is the fundamental basis for understanding the world. An open, modified, expanded class struggle—which can’t be reduced to the struggle for economic demands at an enterprise level—is connected to the new social movements and intersectional struggles. Basically, it is the struggle between the exploited and the oppressed and their exploiters and oppressors.

To this fundamental understanding, we add ecology. My generation was not (initially) aware of this problem, but ecology is not a separate issue. We live in a finite world, rather than an infinite one, and it is not that nature is on one side and the productive forces on the other. We must rethink everything from an articulation between questioning the capitalist market and environmental demands. It’s a survival demand on both economic and democratic grounds. The new revolutionary political perspective must be linked to these two dimensions: ecology and class struggle.

In an article published in Critique Communiste magazine in 2006, Guillaume Liégard wrote about the LCR: “Our problem is not trivial, we are revolutionaries without revolution and that is new.” Is this what makes the task of building a new party so difficult even today?

Of course, it is. The last revolution with a socialist dynamic that we lived through was that of Nicaragua in 1979. There have been no others since then. In contrast, my generation lived through a revolutionary upsurge in the years 1967-68 and even in 1974-75 in Portugal. There was an opportunity for revolutionary perspectives. Of course, the LCR always had excessive revolutionary optimism, but there was this upsurge, with general strike movements, dual power situations, challenges, open political crises. Unfortunately, it came to nothing.

May ’68 was not the dress rehearsal as Daniel Bensaïd and Henri Weber put it in their book. An Italian May ’68 didn’t develop. The end of Franco’s dictatorship did not lead to a socialist revolution in Spain, but to a democratic transition at the end of the 1970s. Portugal was the country where the political crisis came closest to a revolutionary situation, because the state apparatus was fractured, the army was split in two and there was a movement from below. But this whole phase did not lead to substantial victories. Nicaragua today is a drama.

We must rebuild by incorporating the best of all the histories and traditions of the workers’ movement, of the social movements, of the revolutionary movements.

Starting then (in the late 1970s/early 1980s), the international bourgeoisie took the initiative with Reagan, Thatcher and pro-capitalist counter-reforms. The problem we have is not only that we are “revolutionaries without revolution”, but that the neoliberal offensive lasted exceptionally long. Since the late 1970s, there have been more than fifty years of dismantling social gains.

When I read the League newspapers [of the time], I have the impression that capitalism is in a permanent crisis. But the capitalist system alternates between crisis and recovery, and it can recover as long as an anti-capitalist alternative does not triumph. From now on, ecological catastrophes will be added to economic and social crises. There are social struggles and resistances, but the big problem is that there is also a substantial crisis in the socialist project. This is the difference between today and previous periods. There is no continuity [between crisis and revolution]. The revolutionaries have not been able to build sufficiently strong alternatives.

However, contrary to certain factions which have provoked the split in the NPA, from 1968 onwards the JCR [the Jeunesses Communistes Révolutionnaires or Revolutionary Communist Youth, one of the founding organizations of the LCR] distinguished itself from other far left organizations of the time by the fact that it was not dogmatic. There was within it neither a cult of Mao’s Red Book nor an idyllic vision of the proletariat. Is that the reason why this organization has been, historically and politically, so important in France?

Indeed, it is. This dual capacity has allowed it to be part of history—that of the left opposition to Stalinism—and, at the same time, to be open to the new problems of capitalism and social resistance. I have almost fifty years as a socialist activist. This is my life, and I am part of the history of a revolutionary, critical and democratic Marxist current. Democratic in the deepest sense: in the struggles, in the institutions and in the party. That is the lesson we learned from [breaking with] Stalinism. But that is not enough. We must rebuild drawing on the best of all the histories and traditions of the workers’ movement, of the social movements and of the revolutionary movements.

Do you mean the Stalinism that you experienced, collectively, in the Communist Students Union (UEC) before being expelled in 1965?

Yes. There was even a statutory provision in the League, according to which militants could not be excluded. Only the rank-and-file cells could do so. It was a legacy of that battle in the UEC: to prevent the Stalinist apparatus from excluding us, we relied on the rank-and-file circles. To throw Alain Krivine out of the Sorbonne-Lettres circle, the PCF apparatus had to dissolve the Sorbonne-Lettres circle. On this question, the grassroots structures were sovereign. We are deeply attached to this. We assimilated the libertarian aspect of May ’68. This was the difference we had with the Maoists, who were led by Pierre Victor (whose real name was Benny Lévy): there were no tendencies in the Gauche Proletarienne [i.e., a leading Maoist organization of the period]. The future current to be built must make the democratic question a fundamental question.

This is one of the problems with Jean-Luc Mélenchon, besides the international question [Note: Mélenchon, the leading figure of the left populist party France Insoumise, takes positions on foreign policy that are generally considered “campist”]. Of course, our democratic functioning was not superior to that of others—our recent setbacks attest to this—but, to continue the struggle, we must integrate this question.

Class struggle, ecology, democracy and internationalism: all these are decisive to rethink the world we look at “with the eyes of a Czechoslovakian worker, a Bolivian miner, a Vietnamese peasant and a French worker”, as Daniel Bensaïd once said. Today we would add with the eyes of the women of these peoples in struggle. We must see the world with all these eyes, what we used to call the dialectics of the sectors of the world revolution. This is complicated today, where nationalist pressure is very strong. We must maintain an internationalist course. On this point, the NPA has remained firm and faithful to its principles.

When, in 2009, the LCR chose to dissolve to participate fully in the creation of the NPA with anti-capitalist activists from different backgrounds, what was your perspective?

While we were immersed in a long process of the collapse of Stalinism, [Olivier] Besancenot’s success came. The 2002 campaign had been a great gamble, we filled the Porte de Versailles fairgrounds, there was dynamism. [Note: Besancenot, a postal worker and LCR member, won 1.2 million votes in the national vote in a presidential run in 2002.] We told ourselves that the time had come for a new party. But in the face of the issues raised by the new era, this conjunctural response of the new party was not enough. We had the wrong perspective. What was happening around the Besancenot campaigns in 2002 and 2007 could not constitute the new party, it could only be a segment. But we had to move.

When Besancenot got 4.2% in the 2002 presidential election, thousands of people came to us, but they had doubts, and the League was down to 3,500 members. We felt that there was a current that went beyond the League, but it was unformed. It had to be crystallized. The first time I raised the issue of a new party, we were Olivier Besancenot, Alain Krivine and Samy Johsua, and we still did not have the 500 signatures [required to get on the ballot] for the 2007 presidential elections. I said, “If we run a good campaign and get a decent result, we will make it.” We did, we got about 10,000 endorsements. It was a happy mess. But there was a real dynamic.

We made the mistake of bridging, of substituting: the important thing was to relate to people around us. That is why we did not see Mélenchon’s initiative coming.

And even today, when we look back on this recent past, I still think that we were right to launch the NPA to go beyond the League. But we thought that from then on, we had to rebuild everything around the NPA. The problem of alliances took a back seat. It was a triumphalist course for the NPA. This tendency to want to replace the left political forces did not work. That is where the problems began.

A current in the LCR, whose chief spokespeople were Christian Picquet and Francis Sitel, believed then that it was necessary to bring together not only the anti-capitalists, but also the currents arising from the crisis of the SP and the CP….

They had a point. But they did not consider that we were moving towards a new era and that the traditional apparatuses were entering into crisis, which was demonstrated later. This orientation towards the old traditional apparatuses of the workers’ movement was a mistake. Ours was a mistake of passing over it, of substitutionism: the important thing was to federate people around us. That is why we did not see Mélenchon’s initiative coming. In the 2009 European elections, there was an agreement between the PCF and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Left Party [created in 2008 – MD] which launched the Left Front. They appeared as the promoters of left unity, while we had refused to unite. I have my own responsibility in this. The NPA could not be the answer to the idea of a new party. It could only be a partial answer. We lost a lot of activists [to the Left Front]. We were under pressure from the political offensive of the PCF and Mélenchon. From that moment on, the sects in the NPA acquired an inordinate weight.

For a while, the NPA looked with great interest at the experiences of Podemos and Syriza, which were born around 2011: organizations based on social movements, not on traditional parties. Would you still take these experiences as an example today?

We even participated in them. Friends of ours participated in these processes. In Spain, Anticapitalistas was a founding member of Podemos. We also had comrades in the leadership of Syriza in Greece. Our project was to build a left current in Syriza, a critical force that would have weight in a movement that could potentially govern.

The formula that I defend, and that not everybody shares, is that the beginning of a revolutionary process—not its end—can come about through a left-wing government. At the beginning it can have a parliamentary form. We must be sensitive to this, and support all steps in the right direction, whether Syriza or Podemos. This is one of the lessons of the debates of the Communist International (CI) in the 1920s. The problem is then to articulate this “from above” and “from below,” on the inside and the outside of the institutions. What I am left with from my political training is that in the end I do not see how to escape from confrontation. You cannot go gradually to socialism. I know of no experience in which the ruling classes have voluntarily relinquished power.

I have often discussed this with Mélenchon. The idea of a citizens’ revolution, which would involve winning the maximum number of seats in a national assembly, overlooks the moment when the State apparatus, the Police and the Army, block it and a confrontation takes place. At that moment, one cannot be a prisoner of the State. Mélenchon refers to [early Socialist Party leader Jean Jaurès, assassinated in 1914 for his opposition to militarism prior to World War I] who himself said that the State is “the place of power relations”. The problem is that the State is not neutral. It is socially imprinted by the interests of the bourgeoisie and the ruling classes. It is necessary to build a counter-power that represents the popular classes. One of the strategic lessons of the history of revolution is that revolution does not happen overnight. There is a process of contestation between political forces inside and outside the institutions. The goal is for those at the bottom to prevail over those at the top.

Mélenchon claims to have avoided a scenario of disappearance of the left in France, as in Italy. You have certainly kept the left in the political landscape, but do the organizational fragilities of La France Insoumise (LFI) make you optimistic?

I will not make predictions. In the last campaign, the divergence with Mélenchon was over Ukraine. Otherwise, he ran a good campaign and had a good intuition with the NUPES [Note: New Ecological and Social People’s Union, a left political alliance that stood in the 2022 legislative elections. NPA as an organization did not join the NUPES, but individual members and currents within it supported NUPES candidates.] The conditions were not right for the NPA to participate there, but politically it is where we had to move towards. It was obviously positive. But the dynamic only lasted for a while, and today we see that it is more complicated. I do not agree with [elected NUPES member of the National Assembly] Manuel Bompard’s assertions that, for the sake of efficiency, internal voting is secondary. We may vote too often in the NPA, which encourages division, but even so, we must elect leaders and decide our political orientation by vote. We are not going to arrive at a political perspective by lottery! The fragility of LFI is also deeper: a political project cannot be summarized in a single book [the LFI election program].

Do we need to find an intermediate form between the party and the more ephemeral movement?

Perhaps. If there is this crisis of the NPA, it is because the models need to be revised. We have a permanent voting model, above all, and a history, a tradition, already in the League, of not emphasizing what unites us, but what separates us. We need to review all of this.

What will happen to the half of the NPA embodied by Olivier Besancenot and Philippe Poutou?

I do not know, but in the general situation of epochal change of the left and of the revolutionary left, in the face of the danger represented by the extreme liberal-fascist right, it is necessary for it to pose itself as a revolutionary, democratic and unitary Marxist current. And unitary to 1000 percent! The NPA, along with others, has a role to play in building a new political force. From there, it is up to the comrades to decide. We must maintain an independent current, maintain this revolutionary, democratic, internationalist, ecological and feminist perspective. At the same time, we must integrate ourselves into the real movement in the most united way possible. It is necessary to march on these two feet.

Majority platform: We continue the NPA, for a revolutionary and unitary party of the exploited and oppressed

11 December 2022 - The pandemic and its consequences sound like warnings. Capitalism, the race for profits, is leading humanity to catastrophe. Wars, ecological crises dangerously endanger life on earth, economic crisis, shortages… Here, Macron intends to pursue the neoliberal offensive against our rights, in particular by attacking our pensions in the coming weeks. There is an urgent need to break with this system that is running out of steam.

The great imperialist powers are redeploying, competition is intensifying, the far right is threatening. War policies and the arms race are growing stronger. Everywhere, we are on the side of the peoples and their right to self-determination, as in Ukraine, in solidarity against Putin’s aggression.

In the absence of an eco-socialist alternative, based on the self-organisation of those below, the capitalist infernal machine will continue to spin out of control. As internationalists and anti-colonialists, our hopes are nourished by the feminist and anti-dictatorship mobilizations in Iran, the wage strikes in England, the demonstrations for democracy in China, the struggles against racism in the United States, the struggles against chlordecone in the Caribbean. We act in solidarity with all these mobilizations. While the struggles are real, they are finding it difficult to win. The most massive and radical ones, notably those of the Arab Spring, have managed to get rid of authoritarian and corrupt regimes. But none of them has led to an emancipatory alternative. The reactionary counter-offensive has been accompanied by mass killings and the return of dictatorial regimes.

To maintain their domination, the capitalists are ready for anything. They are strengthening their racist, Islamophobic and authoritarian offensives. Extreme right-wing governments impose discriminatory, climatic and reactionary policies. The fascist threat is back in force. It requires vigilance, specific struggles and unitary frameworks to fight it.

Macron is attacking the most precarious among us with the unemployment insurance reform, with the Darmanin law against migrants. The pension reform claims to push back the retirement age to 65. More than a new “reform”, this offensive in favour of the capitalists carries with it the project of a society of over-exploitation : working more and more, for longer and longer… and for ever lower incomes. It is a real provocation against all those who, through their manual or intellectual work, keep society going, especially women.

Macron sets the bar very high. For him, it’s make or break: reform or dissolution. He leaves us no choice but to blockade the country. We have to get Macron out. This implies the unity of workers and youth, of their organisations, from the bottom to the top. Above all, it requires a movement from below, in the workplaces and schools, in the communes and neighbourhoods, which organises and decides on the struggle.

Refusal of lay-offs, wage increases, reduction of working hours… we must break with the capitalist exploitation that puts profits before our lives. In the companies and in all workplaces, we act to build tools of collective resistance – trade unions, collectives, etc. The struggles against exploitation, against all oppressions and for the preservation of the planet are linked. Environmental, feminist, LGBTI and anti-racist struggles have their own dynamics and organisational forms. Their self-organisation builds the emancipation of all. Their convergence opens the way to a confrontation with this system and the powers that defend it.

An internationalist, anti-capitalist, feminist and ecosocialist organisation

In 2009 we launched the NPA in the hope of bringing together in a single party all those who were committed to an anti-capitalist perspective, breaking with the left that manages the system. This project is more relevant than ever. Today, we are renewing the thread of the construction of a useful party for the exploited and the oppressed. In the last sequence, the Mélenchon and then NUPES vote was the tool used by an important part of the working classes to defend themselves against Macron and the far right. But on a militant level, tens of thousands of anti-capitalists are orphaned from a political organisation that acts practically in the class struggle, outside electoral campaigns. An organisation convinced that exploitation, oppression and the destruction of ecosystems cannot be ended without overthrowing capitalism, without a revolutionary transformation of society, an organisation in dialogue and confrontation without sectarianism with other currents in the social movement.

Groups that disagree with these perspectives have developed within the NPA. In some cities and sectors, in our structures, the NPA has become a front of organisations, in competition with each other. We refuse this situation, which turns our party into a battlefield. Faced with their refusal to change the way we function together, we decide to continue the NPA by separating from these groups.

In the coming weeks, the NPA will be present in all the mobilizations: against the pension reform, for health and public hospitals, in defence of migrant workers from the next solidarity marches, to build the feminist strike of 8 March, against the projects of mega-pools, the revival of nuclear power and the burial of waste in Bure…

On a local and national scale, we are launching a militant campaign to address all those who have the common desire to build an anti-capitalist, revolutionary and unitary organisation.

The first will be a public meeting in Paris on Tuesday 17 January at the Bellevilloise, with our spokespeople Olivier Besancenot, Christine Poupin, Philippe Poutou and Pauline Salingue.

Minority platform: Urgency and relevance of the revolution, we continue the NPA

December 11, 2022 - The NPA congress brought together 210 delegates in Saint-Denis this weekend, representing the party’s 2,013 members. Platform A received 91 votes, 6.21% ; platform B 711 votes, 48.50%, and platform C 664 votes, 45.29% (a 47 vote difference). It was held a few months after the NPA as a whole carried out the party’s presidential campaign, a campaign that contributed to a new influx of activists to the NPA, of more than 500 militants, youth, students and workers who joined the ranks of the party in one year.

Despite these advances, a part of the outgoing NPA leadership chose to abandon the congress before any vote, including decisive votes on perspectives, to pursue, on its own, a policy in the direction of NUPES and its main component LFI, initiated in the 2021 regional elections in New Aquitaine and Occitania and confirmed on the occasion of the 2022 legislative elections. It is a policy of minority separation, which only received 100 votes in closed session, while the party had sent 210 delegates to this congress. The few divisionists in the outgoing leadership chose to try to blow up the party by challenging the democratic vote of the militants who, in their elective assemblies, had overwhelmingly voted an explicit motion in favour of “continuing the NPA,” or voted overwhelmingly in favour of platforms that rejected the split, including our platform C. This platform is by far the majority in the youth sector of the NPA, in numerous professional branches (transport, post, automotive industry…) and in important departmental federations (Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Bordeaux , Rouen…).

This decision is irresponsible, especially now that the national and international situation demands that revolutionaries close ranks and raise prospects for the revolutionary emancipation of workers and the youth worldwide. It demands that we regroup not divide. But the NPA will continue, despite the departure of its main spokespersons. We, the delegates of the “Relevance and urgency of the revolution” platform, which obtained almost half of the party’s votes, assume this responsibility before the whole of the NPA, its committees, its federations and its sections, regardless of the votes of the congress. Starting Monday, we will bring together all the bodies of the NPA.

We call on all the militants of our party, behind the majority which has demonstrated itself against the split, to continue building the NPA with us. And beyond this, with us, for internationalist responsibility, to fight against the fragmentation of the extreme left and the revolutionary movement on a world scale. The NPA has always conceived of itself as a pole for the regrouping of revolutionaries, towards a revolutionary party of workers.

Here in France, labour is facing an all-out offensive from employers and the government. Workers, including the most precarious, the unemployed, retired and disabled, are greatly affected. With inflation exceeding 6% per year, wages are cut a little more each day, and new sacrifices are announced to the working classes: for many, there is talk of going hungry and cold, without electricity or heating, this winter. For the beginning of 2023, an increase in the rates of public transport, highway tolls, post office, etc. is announced. And the government launches its attack on pensions for the elderly, among other things by raising the legal retirement age.

This autumn has already been marked by a large number of mobilizations and strikes for wage increases, scattered and isolated but determined. The national strike day of October 18, in support of the refinery strikers but also in anger against Macron and his government, which wanted to intimidate them, showed that an explosion of anger is possible. It is urgent to prepare the mobilizations and their generalisation, the only way to change the relationship of forces and push back these attacks by the bosses and the government : for an increase in salaries and pensions of 400 euros net per month for all, no income below 2,000 euros and a systematic alignment of wage increases with price increases, for full retirement with a maximum of 37 and a half years of contribution from the age of 60. It is a matter of imposing a division of labour among all – everyone working and working less – without any salary reduction, with, on the contrary, salaries that follow the cost of living. Added to the demand to uproot these vital demands is the indignation over the growing deterioration of health, education and transportation conditions, as well as the ecological damage that rots the daily lives of the working classes and youth. These demands for a different life, not sacrificed to profit, will be achieved through the class struggle, with a global response from labour and not from the institutions. Labour will not be able to win either in Parliament or in the halls of social dialogue. There will be no capitalism with a human face, as the FI defends, nor a citizen revolution through the ballot box. We reaffirm the need and the possibility of building a revolutionary party, because pushing back the bosses and ultimately seizing power from them will not be done through elections. In the immediate future, the NPA will give priority to the construction of mobilizations, with all, and there are many around us, who are politically organised in unions or associations, and with others who are less organised, who want to move in this direction. We will demonstrate as a column of the NPA in the March of Solidarity on December 18, which we call to join en masse.

Faced with the rise of the nauseating currents and ideas of the extreme right, nationalists and racists, assumed to a large extent by the right and the government itself, in the face of the war and chaos towards which capitalist society is leading us, we have a particular responsibility towards our social class, the responsibility of helping them to trust in their own strength to fight on their own ground and abandon institutional illusions. While labour shows its power to block the entire society when it goes on strike. A force of stoppage, but also a force for the reorganisation of the whole of society, if the proletarians in struggle go further and organise themselves to lay the foundations of their own power.

The international situation also demands our responsibilities. In several countries, including England, strikes and waves of strikes break out. More generally, we are witnessing an unprecedented wave of large-scale social protests. In 2019, less than ten years after the 2011 Arab revolutions, we have seen a resurgence of mass protests around the world and now in Iran and China. They join the massive struggles of women for the right to abortion and against gender and sexual violence, the struggles for the rights of the LGBTI collective, the struggles of the youth and the not so young for the climate and against racism.

At a time when the real dangers of the militarization and authoritarian hardening of the regimes against the popular classes are looming, but in which reactions and affirmation capacities for our class are emerging in almost the entire world, it is time to give life in practice to a revolutionary pole, to regroup those forces, now a minority but nonetheless very real, that militate for the revolutionary defeat of the system. A capitalist system that accumulates evidence of its inability to meet the needs of humanity, while today, among the eight billion people, a majority remains on the brink of survival.

We address all workers, young and old, revolted by the system of capitalist exploitation and its procession of misery, wars and oppression: join us for its overthrow and let us all together highlight the relevance and urgency of the revolution!